With a horse in Littlefork, Mn. and a crow in Thunder Bay confirmed this week to have had the West Nile virus, concern about the disease seems to be on some people’s lips.
But the Northwestern Health Unit here stressed it’s been doing its part to respond to any signs of the disease in this area.
“What we’ve been doing is responding to reports of dead birds. If people report a dead bird, like a crow, we send them away for testing,” public health inspector Brian Norris said.
“And as of today [Tuesday], we’ve had no cases of the West Nile virus here,” he added, noting reports come back regardless of whether the results are positive or negative.
Norris noted the public has no need for concern that some kind of epidemic is on the rise. “We’ve been doing this for the past two years. It just wasn’t in the media as much until now,” he remarked.
For the most part, Norris said the public is unclear how the disease spreads.
“They know it comes from mosquitoes and they know it has something to do with dead birds so when they see a dead bird, they call us,” he said.
While the health unit is willing to pick up birds to be tested for the virus, only birds in the raven family—such as crows and blue jays—are carriers of the virus and only those in relatively good condition (i.e., haven’t been rotting for several days) can be tested.
People also are asked not to be alarmed if they find a dead bird on the ground. “Birds do die in the environment, it’s natural,” Norris said.
The local health unit is among the 37 across Ontario which send in suspiciously dead crows, ravens, and jays for testing at the University of Guelph.
Norris added the lab recently began to limit the test subjects to crows and ravens due to the great number of tests it must conduct.
Still, just because West Nile virus hasn’t showed up here yet doesn’t mean it won’t, said Norris.
“If they’ve found the virus in Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, and other parts of Manitoba, maybe it’s a question of time before we see it here,” he noted.
But he stressed that even then, a cause for alarm may not be warranted, reasoning there have been no reports about the West Nile virus affecting people in Canada so far.
West Nile is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. The mosquitos themselves get the virus by biting an infected bird and, in rare cases, pass it on to humans or other animals, like the infected horse reported in Littlefork.
The presence of dead birds such as crows, ravens, and blue jays often is the first indication that the West Nile virus is in the area.