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2003 News from Mecklenburg County

June 17, 2003


Charlotte, NC - The Mecklenburg County Health Department will begin collecting dead birds to be tested for West Nile virus.  In addition to blue jays, American crows and raptors such as hawks and owls, this is the first year that dead cardinals will be targeted for testing. This targeted testing will likely occur for only a short period since the NC State Public Health Laboratory will stop accepting birds for testing from an individual county once a positive bird is identified.

To report targeted dead birds, call the Health Department's Public Health Pest Management Program at 704-353-0350.  For questions about mosquitoes, call 704-336-5101.

Report dead birds immediately. Birds dead longer than 24 to 36 hours may not be suitable for testing.  When a dead bird is found, it should be secured, regardless of whether it will be tested for West Nile. Children, stray cats and dogs or other animals may pick up a bird if it's left unprotected. The bird should be placed it in a plastic bag, bucket, or comparable container and, if possible, kept in a cool place. Birds should never be handled directly. Use a shovel or similar device to pick them up and always wear protective gloves.

West Nile virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. The virus can infect people, horses, many types of birds and some other animals. Most infected humans and animals will not have any symptoms. About 20 percent of infected people will develop West Nile fever. The symptoms for West Nile fever are also fairly mild and include fever, headache, body aches and, occasionally, a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen glands. Symptoms usually last only a few days with no long-term health effects.

West Nile encephalitis or meningitis ("encephalitis" and "meningitis" mean inflammation to different parts of the brain and spinal cord) is the most severe form of infection. Those symptoms include severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, disorientation, convulsions, paralysis and coma.
The best protection from the West Nile virus is to protect yourself from mosquito bites.  To do so:

· Stay inside at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
· Use repellants containing DEET and follow directions closely.
· Wear long sleeves and long pants.
· Eliminate standing water sources that may be potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
· Keep window and door screens closed, in good repair and "bug tight."

There were six reported human cases of West Nile virus in North Carolina last year.  One of those cases was a Mecklenburg County resident. In 2002, the Health Department submitted 118 birds for West Nile virus testing. These birds were collected from 26 Mecklenburg County zip codes. Of those birds, 62 tested positive for West Nile virus.

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