Sussex County Delaware

West Nile Virus
Surveillance to Begin
West Nile Virus ...

Three Agencies Coordinating
This Year's West Nile Efforts

Three Delaware agencies have begun preparing surveillance and response actions for the West Nile Virus this year.

DNREC's Mosquito Control Section, the Delaware Health and Social Services Division of Public Health, and the Delaware Department of Agriculture are teaming up on the plans.

The Division of Public Health will work with hospitals and physicians to identify individuals who may have been exposed to the West Nile Virus and to assist in the collection of samples for further analysis.

Anyone who believes they may have been exposed to the West Nile Virus is encouraged to consult with a physician. For general health information concerning the West Nile Virus, contact the Division of Public Health at 302-739-5617.

The Delaware Department of Agriculture will continue to work with horse owners and veterinarians in the state to identify horses that may be infected with the West Nile Virus.

The Department's Poultry and Animal Health personnel will assist in the collection of blood samples for further analysis. Suspect horses will exhibit symptoms, which include listlessness, muscle spasms in the head and neck, and weakness in hind limbs.

There is no vaccine against West Nile Virus. Anyone with a horse exhibiting these symptoms should contact their veterinarian and/or the Delaware Department of Agriculture Poultry and Animal Health Section at (800) 282-8685.

Early detection is the only way to help prevent a serious and possibly fatal infection. Humans cannot contract West Nile by coming into contact with infected horses and birds; it can only be conveyed to humans and other mammals by mosquito bites.

Reporting sick or dead birds to DNREC's Mosquito Control Section is an integral part of the state's West Nile surveillance program. Current birds of interest for reporting are crows, blue jays, hawks and owls; additional species may be added in the future.

Sick or dead birds can be covered or protected until state officials arrive. For health-related reasons, people should avoid direct contact with sick or dead birds, and not handle specimens without gloves.

The public is asked to limit their reporting to specimens that are alive and sick, or that appear to have been dead for less than 24 hours. If such birds are seen or found, they should be reported to the following Mosquito Control Section offices:

  • New Castle County (weekdays, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.) -- 302-323-4492
  • Kent/Sussex counties (weekdays, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.) -- 302-422-1512
  • Evenings/weekends/holidays (statewide) -- 1-800-523-3336

West Nile first appeared in the United States in New York in 1999 and arrived in Delaware last fall, striking four horses and killing two of them.

While the occurrence is not cause for alarm, the public is advised to reduce mosquito bites to the extent practicable, and to assist the state's efforts to detect and track the virus by reporting sick or dead birds to the Mosquito Control Section.

Symptoms of the West Nile Virus, which is typically transferred from birds to humans via mosquito bites, include fever and headache and, in rare cases, neurological disorder.

Personal protection measures to reduce mosquito bites include wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, carefully using insect repellents and limiting time outdoors in areas with high mosquito populations.

Property owners are urged to eliminate mosquito-breeding habitats around their homes or businesses. Special attention should be given to stagnant water in discarded cans, old barrels, flower pots, used tires, clogged rain gutters, untended birdbaths, abandoned swimming pools, and other water containers.

This year, the primary West Nile surveillance methods will rely upon testing mosquito specimens currently thought most capable of transmitting the virus, and by examining sick or dead wild birds possibly infected.

The use of sentinel chickens to detect West Nile was unsuccessful in Delaware as well as throughout the Northeast last year; however, the state will continue using sentinel chickens to monitor for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, which has worked for the past 19 years in helping to detect this mosquito-borne virus.

Selective insecticide spraying for West Nile will take place on a site-specific basis where sick or dead wild birds, mosquito collections, or infected humans or horses indicate that the virus is present and where mosquito populations are also high.

Keeping biting mosquito populations below nuisance threshold levels is also an excellent disease control strategy for limiting transmission of West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

Spraying for nuisance relief will continue again this year as warranted. Mosquito Control has already sprayed for woodland-pool mosquito larvae, and will continue to treat later this spring and throughout the summer and fall for control of larval and adult mosquitoes.

Areas treated include urban and suburban sites, stormwater basins, freshwater marshes, woodland edges and salt marshes or other tidal wetlands.

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