Canada Residents Help West Nile Virus Bird Surveillance Effort

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The Middlesex-London Health Unit is asking for the public’s assistance in detecting West Nile Virus (WNV) in the local bird population. Over the past several weeks, the Health Unit has submitted three birds for testing, all of which were negative for the virus. So far, 15 dead birds collected across Ontario this year have tested positive for WNV, including birds from Lambton and Niagara. Dead birds can be an early sign of the arrival of West Nile Virus in a community.

“Monitoring dead birds is an extremely important part of our West Nile Virus program, especially with the disease having already been detected in a neighbouring community," says David White, Manager of Environmental Health with the Middlesex-London Health Unit. “We rely on residents across our area to let us know when they see dead crows or blue jays.”

Crows and blue jays belong to a group known as corvids, which are sensitive to West Nile Virus; the deaths of these birds for no other apparent reason, could be an indication of the presence of the virus.

West Nile Virus is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes get the virus from feeding on infected birds. To reduce mosquito-breeding sites, local residents can do the following:

* Regularly empty standing water from garbage cans, wheelbarrows, toys, flowerpots and saucers, pool covers, tires, etc.

* Clean clogged eavestroughs

* Clean and change the water in bird baths every other day

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* Keep pool pumps circulating

* Aerate ponds or stock them with fish

* Cover openings in rain barrels.

The majority of people who become infected with West Nile Virus (80%) do not get sick. Those who do become ill usually experience mild flu-like symptoms. Less than 1% of people infected with the virus get seriously ill.

Take the following steps to protect yourself and your family from West Nile Virus:

* Wear light-coloured shirts with long-sleeves, pants and socks in areas where mosquitoes are present - especially at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are active.

* Use an insect repellent with DEET. Follow directions for use, especially for children.

* Fix holes in screens, windows and doors

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