Authorities: West Nile virus killed bird

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 21, 2002

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An Enterprise manager of a gas station noticed a "sick looking" crow outside the store and notified authorities.

It was a good thing, too, they said..

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According to store workers, the crow came from the roof of the Beeline store and then died in the parking lot.

The crow was sent to a diagnostic laboratory in Auburn and Dr. Tony Frazier, the state veterinarian, confirmed that the West Nile Virus was found in tissue taken from the dead crow.

"The virus is typically about the same as the Eastern Equine Encephalitis. It’s not exactly like it, but it’s in the same family. The virus is not as virulent as the [Eastern Equine Encephalitis]," said Gaffney Logan, environmental director for the area.

"We’ve known we were going to pick it up and we are concerned, but it’s not nearly as severe as other types we’ve had in the past," he said.

According to Logan, senior citizens and/or people with poor immune systems are more likely to catch the virus, and the virus causes mild flu-like symptoms. Horse owners are also being warned.

This is the first known positive sample of the virus in Alabama for this year.

Last year, Alabama experienced several cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis found in horses.

West Nile virus originated in New York in August 1999 and it has since spread over much of the Eastern United States. Experts say the virus would eventually spread over the country.

Mosquitoes spread the virus by feeding on the blood of infected birds, which circulate the virus in their system.

"The main thing people can do right now, particularly with it being the summer, is protect themselves against mosquitoes. When you’re outside be sure to use repellent or to wear long sleeves.

"And make sure you aren’t raising mosquitoes in your yard. Check around for any buckets, pots or anything else that would hold water," Logan said.

The area near the store will be sprayed with mosquito repellent.

Crows, blue jays and raptors, such as owls and hawks, are the main carries of the virus, according to Logan.

"The only birds we are testing right now are crows, blue jays and raptors, because 90 percent of the virus we’ve found has been found in those. Funds being like they are, we’re going to concentrate on just those birds.

"Normally, when we are looking for birds to test, we’re looking for isolated individual cases, like a sick bird,"" Logan said.

Alabama Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Charles Bishop warned people to be on the lookout for dead birds, especially crows and blue jays. If someone wishes to handle a dead bird, they should gloves or plastic bags placed around their hands and store the bird in a cool place, he said.

"If you would rather not handle a dead bird, you can call this department or your local public health facility," Bishop said.

Bishop also recommends that people replace water in birdbaths and pet or other animal feeding dishes at least once a week. The bottom of hanging plant containers should also be changed regularly.

The vaccine against West Nile Virus for horses if available through local veterinarians.

To report dead birds call Dr. Frazier at (334) 240-7255, Dr. Bill Johnston at the Alabama Department of Public Health at (334) 206-5969, or Ashley Rossi at the USDA Wildlife Services at (334) 844-9244.