WASHINGTON – State officials will test a group of 15 crows that were found dead in Howard County to see if they carried the deadly West Nile virus, which has killed five people in the New York City area since August.
The birds, found Saturday in Cooksville, are the only large number of dead birds reported in the state since the outbreak of the virus in New York, authorities said. Several callers over the past few weeks reported one or two dead birds, officials said.
The crows did not show any symptoms of blood trauma or other illness, which led authorities to investigate other possible causes of death, said Bert Nixon, director of Howard County’s Community Environmental Health Program.
But state officials said there is no cause for concern yet. The dead birds do not necessarily indicate a West Nile virus infection.
“This is not something we would be concerned about,” said Mike Slattery, director of the Wildlife and Heritage Division of the state Department of Natural Resources.
Results of the tests should be available in about two weeks’ time, he said. Some other crows that were found dead of blood trauma are also being tested for the West Nile virus, he said, adding that these results would be available in one week. The tests are being carried out at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Slattery said officials are also testing ducks in Maryland, after some ducks in New York were found to be infected with the virus.
The West Nile virus is carried by birds and transmitted to humans through mosquitoes. While the virus can infect different species of birds, crows exhibit the most obvious symptoms. Other birds infected with the virus usually remain asymptomatic.
Mosquitoes have been collected in Maryland but not yet tested, said Assistant Agriculture Secretary Charles Puffinberger. The state is still waiting for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to supply materials required for the testing, he said.
The state stepped up spraying for mosquitoes along the Eastern Shore in the wake of Hurricane Floyd, but that spraying stopped last week when the weather got cold and windy, Puffinberger said.
While the mosquito population in some areas in the state had also dropped, there was an increase in another species of mosquitoes, he said. But these were not the type believed to be the carriers of the virus, he added.
In humans, the virus can cause encephalitis, a potentially fatal disease. Symptoms of the virus include headache, fever and body aches, often with skin rash and swollen lymph glands. More severe infection is marked by headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, occasional convulsions, and paralysis.
Since the outbreak of the virus in New York, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Maryland has set up a toll-free number to report unusually large numbers of dead birds, particularly crows. The number is 1-888- 584-3110.