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West Nile Virus found in dead bird from WH lawn

From Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A dead crow, found on the White House South Lawn, has tested positive for the West Nile Virus, local health officials said Monday.

The Secret Service reported two dead crows to the Washington, D.C. Health Department Sunday, July 21, the department said.

The Health Department sent one crow to the Maryland State Laboratory, which determined it tested positive for the West Nile Virus. The other was too decomposed to be tested, a D.C. heath official said. A Secret Service spokesman said it is not the first time a dead bird found at or near the White House has tested positive for the West Nile Virus.

"There have been a couple of previous instances," Jim Mackin, a Secret Service spokesman, told CNN, recalling at least one previous case where a bird infected with the virus was found dead inside the White House grounds.

Asked if the Secret Service had any reason to believe anyone intentionally sent a bird infected with the virus to the White House grounds as a terrorist act, the spokesman said, "There is no indication (this) is anything more than the birds dying ... and dying on the White House grounds."

Mackin said the agency was treating this as a public safety issue as opposed to anything directed at the White House.

So far this year, 46 birds in the District of Columbia have tested positive for the virus, the department said.

"Certainly it is of concern," Peggy Keller, D.C. Health Department chief of animal disease prevention, told CNN. "It is a virus that can be transmitted to people. But the concern is very minimal. The important thing is that people prevent any chances they get West Nile Virus."

The West Nile Virus is spread only by mosquitos, and shows up first in dead birds. Keller said that if a mosquito from a mosquito pool that tests positive for the virus bites a human, there is only a 1 in a 1000 chance the mosquito would actually be positive for the virus. If that mosquito then bites a human, there is a 1 in 300 chance the human would get the virus, Keller added.

In response to the discovery at the White House, the D.C. Health Department has "larvacided" places near the White House, which means it has added chemicals to water sources near where the crows were found.

The Health Department has also identified sites near the locations where the crows were found to collect and test mosquitos and has offered any additional assistance to the White House.

A White House spokeswoman was checking to see what extra steps, if any, were being taken after learning that a crow found on the grounds tested positive for the West Nile Virus. The Secret Service spokesman said no extra steps to his knowledge were being taken, except asking people to take preventative measures such as wearing gloves and repellent at dusk.

There has never been a case of a human in the District of Columbia testing positive for the virus, Keller said.

The West Nile Virus has killed 16 people in the United States since 1999, according to Keller, who added that most of those individuals' immune systems were already compromised by other diseases such as cancer.

Last year, 360 birds and three mosquito pools tested positive for the virus in Washington.

Keller said the best prevention is to identify and eliminate any breeding mosquito site, noting that open water can breed several species of mosquitos. The D.C. animal control chief said people should survey their backyards and look for places that might hold water. Prevention tips include disposing of cans, bottles and open plastic containers properly, removing discarded tires and turning over plastic wading pools when they are not in use.

Also residents are advised to wear long sleeves and repellent at dusk.

Residents, who find dead crows, blue jays, hawks and eagles that have been killed by a moving vehicle or attacks from other birds, are asked to contact the D.C. Health Department.




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