West Nile Virus - How it Affects Birding

It seems that the West Nile Virus is in the news every day. How does the West Nile Virus affect your birding hobby?

What Is the West Nile Virus?
The West Nile Virus can be gotten ONLY from a mosquito bite. It can't be transmitted from any animal or even an infected person. It is very rarely fatal, unless you are elderly. Most people who are bitten and infected never even know it.

Read up on the Relative Risk Level of West Nile Virus to find out just how few people really die from West Nile.

How did Birding become involved in the West Nile Virus?
Investigators want to know when a batch of mosquitoes is carrying around the West Nile Virus. It's really hard, of course, for them to track down mosquitoes and test them. However, some small percentage of birds die when they're bitten from mosquitoes, just as some small percentage of humans die. Most birds (and humans) don't, but a few do. When dead birds are found, it's easy to test them and see if the death was caused by West Nile Virus. Since there are so many more birds than humans, even though they are rarely killed, it's relatively common to find a few dead in an infected-mosquito region.

When people find dead birds, mostly blue jays and crows, they report them to their local police department. All birds can and do get infected, but since blue jays and crows are larger and numerous, they're the ones that tend to be found. If it happens to be West Nile that killed them, now the police know that West Nile mosquitoes are in the area.

Should I Stop Birding?
No!! If anything, the birds being infected means that we find out quickly that the infected mosquitoes are nearby. We find out BEFORE they bite many humans. They're like the canary in the coal mine. In fact, the more birds you have around, the more chance that one or two will die if infected mosquitoes are in the area. Remember, most birds don't die. So if you have a larger number of birds, you have a larger number that succumb to the virus if it's around.

What Can I Do?
First, relax. You're more likely to be slain by lightning than die from the disease. If you're truly worried, take common sense precautions against mosquitoes. Wear DEET repellant. Wear long sleeves and pants so there's little skin showing. Use natural solutions in any pond near you, and remove standing water. Best of all, put up a bat house or two!

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