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The Buzz About Dead Birds

Township says there’s no need for concern over recent dead bird sightings; offers info about removal and West Nile worries.

Lately, there's been some rumblings over dead birds. A week ago, blogger Ellen Seidman wrote a post about them on her popular blog Love That Max. In it, she chronicled her problem with finding dead birds in her driveway and in front of the house. The blog voiced concern about why the birds died in the first place, and if they could possibly be carrying West Nile Virus.

Her initial calls to the Township, she said, didn't provide her with the answers she was looking for. She has since heard a more concrete response from the Township officials, but we decided to do a little follow-up on our own. According to Seidman, she was initially told by several employees that water in the area gets tested for West Nile. But she didn't feel she received satisfactory information about the birds. We tracked down Maplewood Health Officer Bob Roe, who recently returned from vacation, for information.

"Birds don't spread West Nile Virus," Roe said. "That's really transported by mosquitoes and stagnant water." If people have a problem with dead birds, he said, they can call the township and report it. Birds must be tested within 12 hours to determine any disease. He also suggested that residents simply throw them away. But be sure to bag them carefully and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

The state of New Jersey doesn't require that towns test birds for West Nile virus or anything else. Maplewood tests stagnant water because that is a bigger breeding ground for mosquitoes. The township's nursing supervisor expressed to Seidman that she maintains a log of dead birds, noting that bluejays and crows are of most concern. Vice Mayor Kathy Leventhal provided Patch with the same information.

"Eliminate stagnant water that mosquitoes can breed in," said Roe. "These are places such as pools, roof gutters that are clogged, or pails of water." He also added that the Essex County Mosquito Patrol would be a good agency to contact with any concerns over areas where many mosquitoes are present. They can be reached by calling (973) 239-3366, ext 2390 or 2440.

Vice Mayor Leventhal echoed Roe's advice. "The biggest concern since it is uncommon for a human to be infected from a bird," she said, "is the testing throughout town of stagnant water for infected mosquitoes. Residents need to be aware that even a small amount of sitting water, e.g. child's pail with rain water in it is a breeding haven for mosquitoes."

So what about those deceased birds? Township officials believe they were most likely casualties of the heat wave we've been enduring of late.

Here are Maplewood Township Health Officer Robert Roe's complete instructions regarding West Nile virus, mosquitoes and birds:

1.  Only the bite of an infected mosquito will transmit the West Nile virus to humans. Dead birds do not transmit the virus.

2.  Stagnant water is not tested for West Nile Virus.  Mosquitoes are captured in special traps by the Essex County Mosquito Control (not patrol).  These captured mosquitoes are then put together (pooled) and tested at the State DEP lab for the presence of West Nile Virus.  So, the use of the word "pool" and "pooled" may have caused some confusion.  It refers not to a body of water but to the putting together of the captured mosquitoes. 

3. Dead birds such as crows and blue jays are used as an indicator for probable West Nile virus infected mosquitoes in an area. The birds are victims of this infection and they die. As you may recall, crows were particularly susceptible to this virus and many of them died from it several years ago. A more direct way to test for West Nile virus activity in an area is to capture and directly test the mosquitoes.  This is what the Essex County Mosquito Control does. 

4. The type of mosquito that is most likely to spread West Nile virus are the mosquitoes that breed in stagnant water.  This is why it is most important for all residents to eliminate standing stagnant water in back yard pools, clogged roof gutters, buckets and other containers. I have seen mosquitoes breeding in stagnant water in a container as small as an empty cat food can that was left outside.  These mosquitoes do not breed in running water such as a fish pond or circulating decorative pond.  The key factor is Stagnant Water.  In hot weather, mosquitoes can mature from egg to adult in five days. 

5.  With this hot weather, we are now in the season where West Nile virus is most likely to be transmitted by mosquito bite.  Residents should take precautions such as wearing long sleeves and using mosquito repellant especially during the early evening or early morning hours when mosquitoes are most active. Heavy mosquito activity can be reported to the Health Department or to the Essex County Mosquito Control.  You may have already seen the Essex County Mosquito Control workers in their small jeep trucks spraying storm water catch basins.    

6.  As always, I am very happy to help answer any further questions on this matter. 973-762-8120 x4400.  The New Jersey State Health Dept and the Federal Centers for Disease Control, www.CDC.gov, have excellent up to date information on this matter. 

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