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How are birds involved in the transmission of West Nile virus?

West Nile virus (WNv) is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. Birds become infected through the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds.

What is the significance of dead birds?

In 1999, it was determined that WNv was responsible for a significant number of bird deaths in New York City and in surrounding areas. However, because birds can die of many different causes, the finding of a dead bird does not necessarily mean that WNv is present. Each year, from 2001 until 2008, the Durham Region Health Department conducted dead bird surveillance activities during the spring and summer months. Certain susceptible bird species, including crows, blue jays and raptors (hawks, eagles or owls) were used as early indicators of the presence and the intensity of viral activity in an area. When a bird was collected, tested and found positive for WNv, appropriate measures would be taken to inform and educate the public, and to reduce the risk of WNv infection in people. In 2009, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) discontinued its West Nile virus dead bird surveillance program. Consequently, the Durham Region Health Department no longer collects and submits birds for WNv testing. However, we will continue to use other indicators, such as adult mosquito surveillance, to determine the risk of WNv for area residents.

Can I get WNv from an infected bird?

While there is no evidence that a person can get the virus from handling live or dead infected birds (other than via accidental needlesticks, lacerations, etc. during laboratory handling), it is strongly recommended that certain minimum precautions be taken when handling dead birds (e.g. wearing gloves, handwashing).

If I see a sick or dead bird, what should I do?

Live, sick birds should be referred to the local animal control agency or humane society. Dead birds can be disposed of safely and easily. Use gloves or a shovel to place the dead bird in double plastic bags. Then either place the bagged bird carcass in the garbage for local pick-up or bury it several feet deep where it will not be disturbed. People should always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling dead birds.

For inquiries regarding dead bird sightings or testing, you may contact the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre (CCWHC) at 1-866-673-4781 or you can access their website via the following link:

More information can be obtained from

Durham Region Health Department, Environmental Help Line, 905-723-3818 or 1-888-777-9613.

April 22, 2013