Maine CDC Press Release

June 26, 2003

Mainers Encouraged to Take Steps to Protect Themselves Against West Nile Virus

Contacts: Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH Kathleen Genshiemer, MD, MPH
  Director, Bureau of Health State Epidemiologist
  Department of Human Services Bureau of Health
  Tel: (207) 287-3270 TTY: (207) 287-8066 Tel: (207) 287-5183 TTY: (207) 287-8066

Augusta: Peter E. Walsh, Acting Commissioner of the Department of Human Services today reiterated his hope that Maine people report any dead crows, blue jays or ravens that they see in their community. This reporting process is a significant means by which state health officials can monitor the presence of West Nile virus in Maine. The toll-free reporting line is 888-697-5846 and messages reporting dead crows, ravens, and blue jays can be left at any time.

“We have had hundreds of people over the past two years who have performed a simple yet crucial task by just picking up the phone and placing a quick call to the bird reporting line,” said Commissioner Walsh. “With so many people now enjoying the outdoors, I urge all Mainers to do their part this summer and assist us in our efforts to monitor the emergence of West Nile virus.”

The first indication of West Nile virus is often seen in the deaths of infected birds. This year the tracking of birds will focus exclusively on crows, blue jays and ravens, also known as corvids, because corvids are more likely to indicate an introduction of West Nile virus than other species. Reports of dead corvids will be logged and tracked and, in certain circumstances, citizens will be called back to arrange for pick up and testing of birds. Tracking the numbers and locations of reports provides valuable information regarding the emergence of the virus, even if testing is not done in every instance.

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Last year, Maine citizens reported nearly 3,000 dead birds to the toll-free line. The Department of Human Services’ Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory, along with the assistance of veterinarians and other participating groups, collected and tested more than 600 of these birds. 71 of them, scattered in nine counties across the state, tested positive and all but 3 were corvids.

Nationally, there were almost 4,200 human infections and 284 deaths reported last year due to West Nile virus. “We are fortunate that we have had no reported human deaths or infections here in Maine,” noted Dr. Mills, Director of the Bureau of Health. “But with infected birds in many parts of the State, we know there is a significant chance that mosquitoes can become infected from feeding on the birds, and then spread the disease to us,”

For this reason, DHS is working to improve awareness about West Nile virus and to provide people with a strategy on how to better protect themselves. “There are many easy steps every Mainer can take to reduce the risk of mosquito bites,” Dr. Mills stated, “especially those over age 50 who are at higher risk.” These steps include wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants when outdoors, using insect repellent according to the directions on the label, avoiding the outdoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active, keeping door, porch and window screens in good condition and eliminating areas of standing water around the home where mosquitoes can breed.

DHS is working closely with other state and municipal agencies as well as those in the private sector to assure that outreach efforts are effective and coordinated. “We are reaching out to the medical and veterinarian communities to insure that people and animals with possible symptoms are properly tested,” Dr. Mills added. 50 people and 12 horses were tested last year and, with the exception of two people who contracted the virus out of state, all were negative. This year there will also be some testing of mosquitoes thanks to a coordinated effort with research facilities at the Maine Medical Center and at the University of Maine, Orono.

For more information about West Nile virus contact the Bureau of Health, Division of Disease Control at (207) 287-5301, or on the web at http://www.maine.gov/dhs/boh/ddc/westnile.htm. Information regarding the testing of dead crows, blue jays and ravens will be posted on the website.