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News Release
RI Department of Environmental Management
235 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908
(401) 222-2771 TDD/(401) 222-4462
For Release: August 29, 2003
Contact: Gail Mastrati 222-4700 ext. 2402
Stephanie Powell 222-4700 ext. 4418

DEM SAYS INCREASE IN BIRD DEATHS NORMAL AS PEAK SEASON FOR MOSQUITO-TRANSMITTED DISEASES ARRIVES
Public Asked to Continue Reporting Certain Dead Birds, Reminded to Continue to Take Personal Precautions Against Mosquito Bites

PROVIDENCE - The Department of Environmental Management is receiving an increasing number of calls from residents reporting dead crows and bluejays, and says that is normal at this time of year. "Late summer through early fall is the peak season for mosquito-transmitted diseases such as West Nile Virus," says Alan Gettman, Ph.D. DEM's mosquito abatement coordinator. Crows, bluejays and hawks are particularly susceptible to the disease.

Although dead birds are being tracked as a surveillance tool, DEM staff members are collecting and testing far fewer birds than in previous years; instead focusing resources more effectively on mosquito trapping and testing. However, the Department has enlisted the cooperation of the public in reporting the dead birds for tracking purposes. So far, several hundred dead birds have been reported to the DEM Bird Hotline at 788-3698.

DEM still asks the public to report certain dead birds: crows and bluejays that appear to have died from natural causes and have been dead less than 24 hours. However, since no one is available to man the hotline or collect birds on weekends and holidays, calls at that time are apt to fill up the telephone mailbox and are, therefore, discouraged.

Alan Gettman, Ph.D., DEM's mosquito abatement coordinator suggests that residents dispose of birds over the weekend by double-bagging them and putting them in their household trash. There is no evidence that birds can transmit West Nile Virus to humans; mosquitoes that bite infected birds and then bite humans are the transmitters. However, as with any dead animal, avoid bare-handed contact of the carcass by using gloves or an inverted bag to place it in the double bag for disposal.

"The public has been very helpful in aiding our West Nile surveillance," Gettman said, "and we appreciate it. It is clear that people understand that bird deaths can be an indicator of West Nile Virus in the wild. Indeed, the disease has been established in Rhode Island for the past three years.

"A reminder as we go into the Labor Day weekend that people continue to take personal precautions against mosquito bites is particularly appropriate, since so many Labor Day holiday activities take place outdoors and continue into the evening when biting activity is prevalent," Gettman added. "In fact, the mosquito season lasts until the first hard frost, generally at the end of October, so people should continue to be vigilant in the weeks to come."

Those personal precautions include:

bulletApplying mosquito repellant containing 20%-30% DEET whenever going outside, but not to infants.

 
bulletPlacing mosquito netting over playpens and carriages.

 
bulletCovering up by wearing long sleeves and long pants outside during the mosquito peak biting hours from dusk to dawn.

 
bulletMaking sure all door and window screens are in good repair.

For more health information about West Nile Virus, tips on personal protection, and the Rhode Island monitoring program, visit the RI Health Department website at www.HEALTH.ri.gov.

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