West Nile bird count hits 27

September 09, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

The number of birds testing positive for the West Nile virus in Washington County has jumped dramatically since the county's first case was confirmed in August, the Washington County Health Department's director of environmental health said.

Twenty-seven birds, mostly crows, have tested positive for the virus, Laurie Bucher said Friday. On Aug. 19, the health department reported there were three confirmed cases of birds with the virus.

The increase in the number of birds testing positive for the disease does not mean the virus is spreading so much as that the department is now getting a better sense of the extent of the problem because more birds are being tested, Bucher said.


The birds with the virus include three blue jays, two sparrows, three robins, one cardinal, one grackle and one dove, she said. The rest of the birds testing positive for the virus are crows.

Bucher said the department has collected:

  • Seven infected birds from Boonsboro in the 21713 ZIP code.

  • Seven from the Hagerstown area in the 21742 ZIP code, which encompasses the north and east parts of the city.

  • Six from the Hagerstown area in the 21740 ZIP code, which encompasses the south and west parts of the city.

  • Two from the Williamsport area in the 21795 ZIP code.

  • Two from the Clear Spring area in the 21722 ZIP code.

Additionally, the department has collected one infected bird each in Smithsburg, Keedysville and Fairplay.

Since Aug. 19, the number of dead birds the department has collected from residents to test for the virus has jumped from two a day to an average of about 20 a day, Bucher said. The birds are tested at a Baltimore lab.

The virus is spread through mosquito bites, Bucher said. She thinks there are mosquitoes throughout the county with the disease.

There is no vaccine for the West Nile virus for humans.

Less than 1 percent of the population who get the virus experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache and muscle aches, Bucher said. If you experience those symptoms, you should just let the symptoms run their course, she said.

There are some rare cases, though, where the virus can lead to high fever, disorientation and death, she said.

People older than 50 and those with weak immune systems are most susceptible to medical problems because of the virus, Bucher said.

The department is working with the Maryland Department of Agriculture on ways to try to contain the virus, she said. This may include spraying certain areas to kill the mosquitoes and controlling mosquito larvae by putting insecticide in stagnant water, she said.

The health department is encouraging people to participate in a Sept. 28 Tire Amnesty Day at the Forty West Landfill from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. People can drop off up to six tires for free on that day.

Mosquitoes sometimes congregate in the stagnant water that can be found in some spare tires, Bucher said.

County residents who find dead birds are asked to call a statewide number, 1-866-866-CROW (2769). The phone line is staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Dead bird reports also can be submitted online at

Birds that have been dead for 24 hours or more are not suitable for testing, Bucher said.

The department does not have tests done on birds from areas where there have already been two infected birds found, she said.

If a bird cannot be picked up because it has been dead for more than 24 hours or if two or more birds that have tested positive for West Nile have been found in a ZIP code, residents can dispose of the birds themselves, Bucher said. They should wear plastic or latex gloves, or use a plastic bag as a glove, place or wrap the bird in a plastic bag and tie the bag securely, she said.

After disposing of the bird in an outdoor trash can, residents should wash their hands with soap and water, Bucher said.

For more information about the virus, go to the Web at

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