What is west nile virus?
West nile virus (WNV) is a disease that is transmitted through mosquitoes that have fed on wild birds that are infected with the disease. In Asia and Africa ticks also carry the disease, but there is no evidence of that in other parts of the world.
WNV was discovered in East Africa in the 1930s, but is thought to have been around for perhaps 1,000 years. Given reported symptoms and claims of many avian deaths just prior to is own death, some historians believe that Alexander The Great may have been an early victim of WNV. It was first detected in the US in the late 1990s and it is consider to be “seasonal epidemic” by the CDC.
In humans, the symptoms are sometimes flu-like (west nile fever), or infection can produce west nile encephalitis or menangitis, which is an acute infection and swelling of the brain that is sometimes fatal.
In parrots, the symptoms are not evident until the final stages of the disease where neurological signs of drowsiness, imbalance and difficulty in walking and flying become apparent.
Can my parrot be infected?
Yes. Birds, especially those in the corvid family (such as crows, magpies and jays), are most commonly found infected – 150 different species of birds with WNV have been reported in the US. The disease can also be passed to cats, dogs, squirrels, rabbits, horses, bats, chipmonks, skunks, crocodiles and humans.
Often the way we determine that west nile virus is present in any given area is when local birds or other animals are found dead with no visible signs of trauma.
What can I do to protect my bird?
There are currently no means to eliminate WNV. However, prevention is well within your control. In order to minimize the chance of you or your parrot contracting the disease you have to reduce the exposure to mosquitoes. Here are some DOs and DON’Ts:
- DO eliminate any sources of standing water where mosquitoes can breed – such as buckets, old tires, pool covers or flower pots.
- DO change the water in your birdbath every 48 hours.
- DO clear you rain gutters often.
- DO keep pools and decorative ponds on your property chlorinated.
- Do keep your birds inside during dawn, dusk and early evening hours when mosquitoes bite most.
- DO place screens in open windows and use screen doors in entry ways.
- DO place mosquito netting around the cages if there are a lot of mosquitoes in your area, or if WNV has been reported in high numbers.
- DO grow mosquito repellent plants like marigolds and catnip in your yard.
- DO NOT use pesticides anywhere in your bird’s environment or air space.
- DO NOT burn citronella candles or use citronella oil in the vicinity of your bird.
WNV is a threat to our birds, without a doubt. There are cases of infected parrots reported each year. However, unless you live in an area which reports a high occurance of the disease, the chances of most parrots contracting WNV is quite low. If you take the necessary precautions, you should not have to limit your bird’s time in the fresh air and sunshine during the warm weather.
Any animals that are found dead or dying without apparent cause should be reported to the local or state health department so they can be tested for the disease. Even though there is no evidence that an infected animal can pass the disease through basic contact, ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES!
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.