Be on the lookout for dead birds |

Be on the lookout for dead birds

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Other than its red, swollen and itchy qualities, these days a mosquito bite could mean exposure to the West Nile Virus.

It’s a virus first detected in the U.S. in 1999 that can cause death in humans, especially people 50 years and older. People infected suffer mostly with fever and head and body aches.

Last year, 66 cases of the virus were reported in 10 states, with the majority of the cases in Louisiana. Nine people infected died as a result of the West Nile Virus.

This year, the virus has been reported earlier and as far west as Texas, North Dakota and Nebraska. California has set up a hotline for people to report any dead or sick-looking crows, ravens, magpies or jays. Those species are less resistant to the virus than other species, experts say.

“Birds carry the virus, and because of that, birds are introducing it to new areas,” said Vicki Kramer, chief of vector borne disease at the California Department of Health. “Some birds are more resistant to the virus and may not die.”

Mosquitoes bite the birds and then infect human and horses with the virus. In 2001, 700 cases of the virus were reported among horses in Florida. More than 200 of the horses died from the disease.

California’s testing for the virus using 200 flocks of chickens kept at various places around the state. The chicken group nearest to Tahoe is kept at Placer County. The chickens are good indicators of the virus’ presence because they are immune to it.

People who find sick or dead birds should not try to catch or handle them, instead take note of the bird’s location before calling the hotline.

“We want people to call us if they discover a bird that died within 24 hours,” Kramer said. “Ones that are not decomposing and are either crow, raven, magpie or jays.”

Anyone who finds a suspicious, dead bird to report it at (877) WNV-BIRD.

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