West Nile confirmed in Whitney Township
Dead crows tested positive for disease
WHITNEY TWP. — Dead birds submitted to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in early August have tested positive for West Nile virus, marking the first signs of the disease in Arenac County in 2013.
Whitney Township Supervisor Don Becker said the birds were found on Mackinaw Road near Turner Road by Mike Deneut, close to a pond. The birds were sent to the DNR for testing and reported to Becker.
Angela Minicuci, public information officer with the Michigan Department of Community Health, said the discovery of the dead crows is not a major cause for concern, however.
“Every time we find West Nile, whether in birds, a mosquito pool or even a deer, it’s something that doesn’t necessarily cause concern, but we want people to be aware of it because it means West Nile is circulating in the area,” Minicuci said. “Anytime that the mosquito species with it is found in the area, and all it takes is one bite from the mosquito carrying it to a human, and that person has West Nile.”
The disease is spread by only one specific mosquito species, the culex, out of the 60 found in Michigan, Minicuci said. A mosquito bite is the only way for it to spread, she said — handling a dead animal that carried the disease, or even eating its meat, will not infect a person.
She suggested that people take precautions to fend off the mosquito, such as using insect repellent with DEET when doing outdoor recreational activities, and making sure the screens on their windows and doors at home are not damaged to keep the mosquitos out.
Additionally, Minicuci said the culex mosquito does extremely well in pools of dirty, stagnant water that have not been flushed out with heavy rain, such as birdbaths, kiddy pools and even clogged rain gutters. It uses these as a breeding ground, so she suggested dumping them out and filling them with fresh water regularly.
Culex has been quiet this year due to the heavy rainfall in the spring and early summer months washing out many of its breeding pools, Minicuci said, but in drier years, such as the summer of 2012, it was able to proliferate much more effectively. Last year had 202 reported human cases of West Nile in Michigan, while this year has only seen six, with none fatal.
Katie Keen, DNR wildlife technician, said West Nile has been in Michigan every year since 2001, and has typically been found in birds like blue jays, crows, ravens, and occasionally raptors. Keen said the DNR will test dead animals for the disease, but but their bodies require proper handling to safeguard the sample.
“We always tell folks to always take precautions when handling dead wildlife,” Keen said. “Wear gloves or use a garbage bag, and if someone wanted to submit a bird for testing it needs to be very fresh — within 24 hours, sometimes less in this hot weather — and it needs to be put in a freezer. And then, that person needs to get it to a DNR office, and then we can send it down to our lab in Lansing.”
Minicuci said the disease can be mistaken for something else, as it shares several mild symptoms with other illnesses, such as the flu. A person infected with West Nile may have fatigue, a sore neck, a fever, headaches, and a rash. The bite area does not usually look any different from a normal bite unless the area is infected, which rarely happens, Minicuci added.
There is no specific treatment for West Nile, Minicuci said. Doctors can only treat the symptoms, though she said it is important, when describing the symptoms to a doctor, that the patient mention any mosquito bites they may have noticed.
Keen said the state has a website available for people who want to report a dead or sick bird or mammal, or simply to get more information on West Nile. It can be reached by visiting Michigan.gov/emergingdiseases and clicking “West Nile virus” on the left side of the page.