News Stories

West Nile at Your Bird Feeder

New research shows that house sparrows may be an majorsource of the West Nile virus, and the virus can multiplyinside the birds without killing them. This means thedisease could be as close as your bird feeder, and you'dhave no way of knowing it.

Most infected sparrows become immune to West Nile within 5days, meaning the virus dies inside their bodies. When thishappens, mosquitoes that bite the birds can no longer spreadthe virus to other animals and humans, but until then, thebirds are dangerous.

?Sparrows could provide an important indicator of whereoutbreaks of West Nile virus are likely to happen," saysNicholas Komar of the Centers for Disease Control andPrevention. ?Public health officials should be concerned if80 per cent of a city?s birds are sparrows, for example. Butif studies then find those birds are immune, there?s a lowrisk of an outbreak.?

Komar analyzed the blood of pigeons, starlings and sparrowsthat had been bitten by mosquitoes carrying the strain ofWest Nile that hit New York last year. Most birds survivedthe infection, but house sparrows had the highest levels ofthe virus in their blood. There was a five-day period whenany mosquito that bit one of the sparrows could have pickedup the virus and spread it. In pigeons, this period lastedjust one day.

In Israel, they?ve been eliminating pigeons in order tocontain an outbreak of West Nile. "But our research reallyexonerates them," Komar says.

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