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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 26, 2002

Birds tested for West Nile virus

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Health Writer

State on watch for fatal disease
The state is interested in examining carcasses of birds that would likely die soonest if exposed to the West Nile virus: mynah, sparrow, finch, cardinal, bulbul and Hawaiian owl (and also the hawk on the Big Island).

House sparrow

Java sparrow



State Department of Health photos

State officials seeking to prevent West Nile virus from taking hold in the Islands yesterday asked residents to become part of an early warning system against the disease.

Department of Health officials urged people who find certain types of dead birds that could be indicators of infection to bag them for collection and turn them in.

There have been no instances of the disease in Hawai'i, but the bird collection is part of a statewide effort to monitor the birds in the wild, which are vulnerable to West Nile virus.

As of yesterday, the virus had spread to 42 states and infected people in at least 2,121 confirmed cases, killing 104, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson said the state is interested in examining carcasses of these birds: mynah, sparrow, finch, cardinal, bulbul and Hawaiian owl (and hawk on the Big Island). These birds are not expected to introduce the disease but would likely die soonest if the disease came here.

Dr. Paul Effler, state epidemiologist, said dead-bird surveillance programs in other states have been able to quickly pick up on any introduction of the disease.

"From a human perspective, West Nile is a major public health threat," he said. "This is a proactive, pre-emptive approach to try and make sure we're ready should the threat actually increase from the Mainland."

The Department of Health joined with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Land and Natural Resources yesterday in announcing the coordinated campaign to try to identify potential carriers of the virus.

West Nile cuts across species boundaries, threatening native birds and horses. It is transmitted by mosquitoes. Humans who are bitten by an infected mosquito can become infected.

Veterinarian Greg Massey, who specializes in endangered species of birds, said there is evidence that birds can pass the disease to one another but that horses do not pass it on to one another.

The virus is believed to be spread by migrating birds, but Massey said it seems unlikely that a bird infected with the virus would be able to fly the 2,700 miles from the Mainland to Hawa'i.

Michael Buck of the Department of Land and Natural Resources said some state staff members will also be picking up the dead birds.

If you find a dead bird

• Check to see if it is one of these: mynah, sparrow, finch, cardinal, bulbul or Hawaiian owl (and hawk on the Big Island).

• Collect the bird using rubber gloves or by slipping a plastic bag over your hand like a glove, picking up the bird, then turning the bag inside out. Put that bag into a second bag and seal it.

• Keep it cool until you can turn it in. On O'ahu, take the bird to the Hawaiian Humane Society, 2700 Wai'alae Ave. Collection sites will also open on Neighbor Islands.

• Department of Health's Web site for West Nile virus

The state Board of Agriculture today is expected to approve emergency rules that would require birds headed for Hawai'i to undergo a pre-import quarantine in a mosquito-proof facility. State veterinarian James Foppoli said he understands that such a precaution will face some opposition. "It's not going to be popular," he said.

Kenneth Matsui, president of the Petland Inc. stores, said he thinks the rules may go too far in applying to all imported birds and not just those from an area where the virus is widespread.

Matsui said his company brings in parakeets from areas where the virus is not prevalent. The proposed restrictions, he said, "would raise the cost, and I don't know by how much, and it would reduce the availability."

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429.