Update: Monday, July 23
This is a good time to remind folks, again, that tis is the season to keep handy the mosquito repellant, long-sleeved tops and pants. And stay indoors, if you're able, during dawn and dusk.
West Nile virus is still a presence this summer, as we discovered firsthand when word came back Monday, July 24, that the dead bird we discovered last week did indeed die of the disease.
We found this out quickly thanks to the rapid work of lab biologist Stan Wright, from the www.fightthebite.net team at the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District.
Wright promptly called us after testing a deceased American Crow we found at 23rd and Q Street during a lunch-hour walk last week.
As the team couldn't make it out to pick up the bird, we collected it carefully and drove it down to the mosquito district headquarters in Elk Grove.
Wright said crows, in particular, are good sentinels for the virus because they succumb to the disease pretty quickly - in five days or so. This means that they haven't flown far from their regular habitat before they die of West Nile virus.
An important tip, though, is that you can't catch the disease from properly handling a dead bird -- it's only the mosquitoes that feed on the bird, and then on humans, that are a threat. This is according to the www.fightthebite.net team experts.
At any rate, Wright has praise for citizens who help the mosquito district by identifying and reporting dead birds. And if you can take the birds to district headquarters when they can't make it out to pick them up, that's all the more helpful -- and good for the community, he said.
Update: Friday, July 20, 3:24 p.m.
The dead bird we reported to Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District apparently was not worth a trip from the technicians who pick up birds and take them back to the lab for testing. West Nile virus is already known to be in the neighborhood, officials said, and now they are busy taking mosquito samples from the area.
What they want most right now is any bird in a new area, indicating the virus has spread. How do you find out if the district cares about a dead bird you found? Report it, and wait for word back. They'll call, if only to say you can discard the bird specimen you preserved.
As for us, we're too eager to find out if the dead bird we found at 23rd and Q Street downtown is infected, and if our effort to preserve it yields results. So we drove the specimen all the way to district offices in Elk Grove and left it in a picnic cooler outside the front door marked with the words "dead birds" written on a piece of masking tape. If it's positive with the West Nile virus, we should hear back in a week.
Thursday, July 19:
Suppose you are out for a walk, like we were during lunch hour recently, and you run across a dead bird.
You'd read recently about how avian specimens are important sentinels for the West Nile virus -- meaning if a dead bird is found to be infected, it's a sign for mosquito control districts to knuckle down in the fight against mosquitoes in that neighborhood.
Mosquitoes like to bite birds, and if a mosquito is flying around after biting this dead bird, and if this bird is infected by West Nile virus . . . your mind races with what-ifs.
Suddenly, you realize there's only one way to find out if the worst-case scenario is true -- you must report the bird to the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District.
Here's what you do: Go online at www.fightthebite.net and fill in the form asking for your contact information and where the bird was found. Importantly, the district wants to know how to reach you so technicians can come by and pick up the bird for testing.
You fill out the form, pushing "send." Not five minutes goes by before you get a phone call from the district, eager to pick up the bird and have it tested.
Alas, the district representative tells you, it is after hours, and the technicians cannot come by until tomorrow to pick up the bird. You think, oh well, I tried.
But the mosquito district representative won't take that for an answer. Can't you just grab a shovel and plastic bag and collect the bird so it can be picked up tomorrow?
Long story short, the representative energetically talks you into performing your duty as a citizen.
Without a shovel to grab, you are advised to take three plastic grocery bags to the dead bird's location.
Place one bag over each hand and pick up the bird to place it in the third plastic bag.
Don't worry about getting infected by touching the bird, you are told. The virus only spreads through a bite from a mosquito.
Pick up the bird in the bag, tie off the bag and place it somewhere near a Dumpster where there's a fence around it. Or someplace safe where you can lead the district's technicians to it the following day, when they are back on duty.
No problem. Kind of invigorating to do the public service. In a week, you will get a personal phone call telling you if the dead bird you detected is infected with the virus.
You imagine the number of dead birds with the virus going up by a digit on the www.fightthebite.net website, and you feel a sense of pride in civic duty. As an on-the-ground citizen detective for the mosquito district, you've added a small but important clue to the seemingly global task of tracking down and someday erradicating the West Nile virus.
We'll update this post next week when we learn whether the dead bird we collected was infected with West Nile or not.