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West Nile virus is ‘hitting hard all of a sudden’ in the region

Centre Wildlife Care is treating a great horned owl that is exhibiting symptoms of West Nile virus. The rehabilitation center has seen more than 20 birds in just the past two weeks that may have the virus.
Centre Wildlife Care is treating a great horned owl that is exhibiting symptoms of West Nile virus. The rehabilitation center has seen more than 20 birds in just the past two weeks that may have the virus. Photo provided

In the past couple of weeks, Centre Wildlife Care in Port Matilda has seen more than 20 birds with symptoms of West Nile virus. In 2012, when Centre County experienced its largest number of reported cases, 63 birds in total were tested for the mosquito-borne virus.

However, the center receives birds from multiple counties, according to Robert Bloom, Centre County West Nile virus coordinator.

“It’s hitting hard all of a sudden.... This is more than normal, I can tell you,” said Robyn Graboski, executive director and founder of the rehabilitation center.

Centre Wildlife Care is urging people who see birds that may be exhibiting symptoms of the virus — weak, wobbly, thin, disoriented, covered in parasitic flies, etc. — to call the center as soon as possible to get them treatment before it’s too late. Swabs are collected from the birds and sent for testing through the state Department of Environmental Protection to determine if they are positive for West Nile, Graboski said.

Many of the birds that the center has received have not survived, but Graboski said they will keep trying to treat them. So far, they’ve treated owls, hawks, crows, ravens and blue jays.

Five out of the about 263 mosquito samples collected so far this year in Centre County tested positive for the virus, according to the state’s West Nile Virus Control Program. Three avian samples have been collected and tested, but the results were negative. No human cases have been recorded this year.

However, the number of positive avian samples will likely rise because Centre Wildlife Care is in the process of submitting samples for testing.

The county recorded 52 mosquitoes, 28 birds, three domesticated animals and one human that tested positive for West Nile in 2012.

“When a mosquito site tests positive, additional surveillance traps are set in that area. Those numbers are then entered into the DEP database,” Bloom said in an email.

Bloom said that an increase in cases may be due to increased mosquito numbers this year.

Graboski said people can easily catch and transport the sick birds to the center by placing a box over them and sliding something underneath. It’s important to wear leather gloves, she said, to protect both you and the bird. Birds cannot transmit the virus to humans; only certain species of infected mosquitoes can.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when rescuing a sick bird is giving them something to eat or drink, Graboski said.

“If you find a person that’s hit by a car or is sick, you don’t take them out to eat, you take them to the hospital. The same medical principles apply to animals,” she said.

Centre Wildlife Care can be reached at 692-0004 or centrewildlifecare@gmail.com to schedule a drop-off time. To report dead birds on your property, call Bloom at 355-6791.

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