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Dead birds could tell tale ' of West Nile virus

The Jackson County Vector Control District has launched a dead-bird surveillance program in Jackson and Josephine counties as part of an early warning system for West Nile virus.

The public is being asked to watch out for dead or ill members of the corvid family, which includes crows, ravens, jays and magpies.

We don't want people to pick them up or handle them, cautioned district manager Eugene Papineau. If someone finds one of these birds, call us and we'll come out, pick them up and send them in to a laboratory for testing.

The office number is 779-6460. The e-mail address is vector@jeffnet.org.

Sponsored by a grant received by the Oregon Health Division from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the program focuses on wild birds the mosquito-borne virus is known to kill, Papineau said.

Veterinary experts at Oregon State University estimate that the West Nile virus, which has reached as far west as Montana, could arrive in Oregon as early as this fall. They recommend that all horse owners immediately have their horses vaccinated for the disease because those animals are especially at risk.

The virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Besides horses and birds, the virus can infect people and other animals, according to the CDC.

As of Friday, the CDC had recorded 555 human cases ' including 28 fatalities ' of West Nile this year in 26 states and Washington, D.C. Including animal cases, the virus has been seen in 41 states.

The virus is not transmitted from person to person or from animals to people.

Although the virus causes no more than a flu-like sickness in most people, it can kill elderly people or those with weakened immune systems, according to the CDC.

The local vector control district is the first in the state to receive permits from both the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and its federal counterpart to participate in the dead bird surveillance program.

Two birds have been picked up thus far. One was tested negative while the test results of the other have not been returned yet.

The dead birds should not be more than two days old, Papineau said.

It has to be rather fresh, he said.

The district is currently one of eight in the state monitoring mosquito populations for the West Nile virus.

Since 1995, it has been testing five sentinel chicken flocks established around the county for St. Louis and western equine encephalitis strains. Since 1999, it has been testing the flocks for the West Nile virus, which was first discovered on the East Coast that year.

While the mosquito season in the region is beginning to wane, the virus can still show up in the form of dead or ill birds, Papineau said.

We're asking for these birds so we can have an early warning, he said. We would do some mosquito work in those areas if we found one with West Nile virus.

The West Nile virus will not go away, he added. Like other mosquito-borne diseases, it will likely go in cycles. We'll have to keep watching for it.

For more information, check out the district Web site at:

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at