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Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory

Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory

Finding WN Positive Birds in Florida: Getting Serious

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Second National Planning Meeting for the Surveillance, Prevention, and Control of West Nile (WN) Virus in the United States was held in Charlotte, North Carolina on Jan. 31 - Feb. 4, 2001. Florida was well represented. Among the nearly 300 registrants were several FMCAer's, including yours truly, Jim Burgess, Dave Dame, Jon Day, Jim Dukes, and Mark Latham. Also present were Lisa Conti, Lillian Stark, Robin Oliveri and Carina Blackmore from the Florida Department of Health. The purpose of this meeting was to review the CDC WN policies, and revise them based on the experience of the 2000 WN transmission season.

The name of the game is the early detection of WN virus in an area. The experience of the northeast U. S. WN outbreaks shows that the best WN detection system is to test dead wild birds for WN virus. Florida must pay attention to this experience and add an active dead bird surveillance program to current arbovirus surveillance programs. It is prudent to use this detection tool in addition to sentinel chickens and mosquito population assessments. The latter tools will be essential to monitor transmission foci in specific locations.

Florida mosquito control can play a critical role in the Florida dead bird surveillance program. It is essential now that the mosquito transmission season is almost upon us that professionals in the Mosquito Control Districts get serious. I urge Florida MCD Director's to collect dead birds for WN testing as part of operations, inform MCD staff of the proper collecting techniques, and to send the birds to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Diagnostic Laboratory, Kissimee, FL. A bird collecting permit is required and can easily be obtained by working with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC). All dead birds should be reported to the FWCC at their website: MCD's can ship dead birds directly to the Diagnostic Lab after reporting to the FWCC website. Anyone shipping directly should indicate this at the FWCC website in the comment box. The form for direct submissions can be found at the DOH website. Florida MCD's may then submit the shipping bill to the DOH, Robin Oliveri, for reimbursement. Otherwise, individual county health departments will make the decision to pick up reported dead birds.

Materials, guidance and instructions for collecting and mailing birds can be viewed at the DOH website, or obtained by contacting:

  • Robin Oliveri
    Arbovirus Surveillance Coordinator
    Bureau of Epidemiology
    Division of Disease Control
    Florida Department of Health
    Tel. (850) 245-4444

Mosquito control personnel should be alert to the following:

  • WN infected birds are likely to occur singly. Do not expect to see a noticeable large die off.
  • Birds that show obvious physical trauma, i.e., road kills, should be collected and sent in for tests. Experience has shown that infected birds are likely to be killed due to trauma resulting from sick birds becoming disoriented as a result of illness.
  • Handle all birds carefully and avoid direct contact. Birds can be picked up using an inverted plastic garbage bag without actually touching the bird. Seal the bag, and maintain the carcass on blue ice if possible.
  • Follow the mailing instructions provided by DOH.

We need to get serious! Florida should be testing hundreds of submissions this summer. Send those birds in for testing! Once we detect the virus in a region, we will call into play our expertise to identify the risk for human infection. This is where more intensive efforts will be needed to identify vector species, identify areas of active transmission, monitor the virus in the birds, and identify the most effective, efficient and proper control.

Please contact Walter Tabachnick, Jon Day or Roxanne Connelly at FMEL (Tel. 772-778-7200) as soon as you receive a report of a WN positive bird in your district. We face an enormous challenge. We need to work together.

Walter J. Tabachnick, Ph.D. - Retired
Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory