Maine CDC Press Release

August 11, 2003

First Birds for 2003 in Maine Test Postive for West Nile Virus

Contact: Dora Anne Mills,MD,MPH
  Director, Bureau of Health
  Department of Human Services
  Tel: (207) 287-3270 or 795-7144
  TTY: (207) 287-8066

Augusta - Four birds have been identified as testing positive for West Nile Virus in Maine: blue jays in Lewiston and Stonington, and crows in Brunswick and York, all from calls coming to the Bureau of Health’s toll-free Bird Reporting Line (1-888-697-5846) between July 31st and August 4th. “These positive tests are what we expected, given that Maine saw 7 positive birds in 2001 and 71 positive birds in 2002,” explained Dr. Dora Anne Mills, Director of the Bureau of Health in the Maine Department of Human Services.

Since 1999, when this emerging disease was first detected in the U.S., there have been no reports of human cases of West Nile Virus acquired in Maine. “However, we believe the potential risk for human disease is probably statewide, and people should take some simple measures to reduce their risk of contracting the disease,” added Dr. Mills.

“Maine people should protect themselves from mosquito bites, since they transmit the virus from birds to humans,” urged Dr. Mills. Using repellent with DEET, covering up, and avoiding the outdoors at dawn and dusk are ways to protect oneself from being bitten. Reducing mosquitoes around homes is the other major strategy to reduce risk from West Nile Virus infection. Eliminating water where mosquitoes breed, cleaning clogged gutters, and repairing screens are some simple ways to reduce mosquito populations around homes.

“The public can assist us in tracking West Nile Virus in Maine by calling our toll-free Dead Bird Reporting Line (1-888-697-5846) if they see a dead crow, blue jay, or raven (all in the corvid family). While we won’t be collecting and testing every dead corvid reported, all reports will be recorded and will help us monitor the spread of this virus in Maine,” concluded Dr. Mills. More information may be obtained at www.MainePublicHealth.org or www.CDC.gov.

Fact Sheet on West Nile Virus

Background on West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus is a disease that can lead to an infection called encephalitis (swelling of the brain). The disease was discovered in the U.S. (in New York City) in the summer of 1999. Since then it has spread to most other states, including Maine.

West Nile Virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. The mosquito gets the virus from biting an infected bird, and can then infect humans and some animals. Most mosquito bites do not lead to the disease because very few mosquitoes are infected. However, people over 50 and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for serious illness from the infection.

Since 1999 the virus has spread to affect a total of 44 states. In 2002 there were 4156 human West Nile virus infections reported in the United States and 284 human deaths due to the infection. Although several dozen people with possible symptoms have been tested in Maine since 2001, as of early August 2003, there have been no reported cases of human West Nile Virus infection acquired in Maine.

Positive birds were first found in Maine in 2001, when a total of seven birds tested positive. In 2002, the Maine Bureau of Health collected over 600 dead birds: 71 of these birds tested positive for the virus. All but three of the positive birds were corvids (crows, blue jays, or ravens). Positive birds were reported from Androscoggin, Cumberland, Hancock, Kennebec, Lincoln, Penobscot, Somerset, Waldo, and York counties.

Twelve horses were tested for WNV infection in 2002 and all tests were negative. The first WNV-positive mosquitoes in Maine were collected at Wells on October 5.

The Maine Department of Human Services’ Bureau of Health, is engaged in a two-part strategy to prevent and track West Nile Virus in Maine:
* Public education efforts to help people avoid mosquito bites that might cause WNV, and
* Testing of some birds, some mosquitoes, and people with possible symptoms in order to track the spread of the disease in Maine.

Symptoms of West Nile Virus

Mild cases of West Nile infection may include a slight fever and/or headache. More severe infections, including encephalitis, are marked by high fever, headache, confusion, muscle aches and weakness, seizures and paralysis. At its most severe, the infection can result in coma, permanent brain damage and death. Symptoms usually occur five to 15 days after exposure. There is no specific treatment for viral infections, other than to treat the symptoms and provide supportive care.

Protecting Your Home

Mosquitoes can develop in any standing water that lasts more than 4 days. To reduce the mosquito population around your home and property, reduce or eliminate all standing water and debris. Examples include:


* Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers.
* Clear brush from around your home
* Remove all discarded tires on your property. Used tires have become the most common mosquito breeding site in the country.
* Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors.
* Make sure roof gutters drain properly, and clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.
* Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.
* Change the water in bird baths
* Clean vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds.
* Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.
* Drain water from pool covers.
* Use landscaping to eliminate stagnant water that collects on your property.

Protecting Yourself

Most mosquitoes in Maine do not transmit disease. Unless you are at high risk for infection, it is not necessary to limit any outdoor activities. Those who are at highest risk of becoming seriously ill from West Nile infection are the elderly and persons with damaged immune systems.

  • Avoid being outdoors at dusk and dawn, the times when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Wear shoes and socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when outdoors for long periods of time.
  • Consider the use of mosquito repellent with DEET, according to directions, when it is necessary to be outdoors.
  • Make sure all windows and doors in your home have screens, and that all screens are in good repair.

How To Handle a Dead Bird

If you see a dead crow, blue jay, or raven (all in the corvid family) please contact the toll-free Bird Reporting Line at 1-888-697-5846.


When handling a dead bird do not use your bare hands, but use plastic or latex gloves, a shovel, or doubled bags to pick up the bird. If you are storing the bird, place the bird in a plastic bag and move it to a cool, dry place like your garage or basement. Please do not place the bird in your personal refrigerator, freezer, or cooler. If you are disposing of the bird, you may bury the bird 18 inches deep or put it in your trash. Please contact your local town official before placing any dead animal in the trash. When finished handling the bird, wash your hands with soap and water.