USGS scientists warn: West Nile virus is on the move

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey in Madison, Wisc., confirmed today that West Nile virus is on the move and is likely to head south.

Dr. Robert McLean, director of the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison said the virus, which has spread from the New York area south into Pennsylvania and Maryland, can now travel much further south and west because of the numbers and species of birds it has infected this year.

Were concerned that the fall migration of millions of birds from and through the 400-mile-wide infected region in the northeastern United States may move West Nile virus southward along the Atlantic and Gulf coast states, Dr. McLean told a press conference Friday. West Nile virus has been isolated from more than 63 species of birds, including 53 free-ranging species from 8 states. That means its not a matter of if, but when the virus will move south.

Dr. McLean said that while crows are especially susceptible to the virus, many other bird species are now carriers. As they migrate, mosquitoes in new areas may become infected and then carry that infection on to humans. So far this year, the virus has caused 16 people to become ill and led to one death.

Other mammals also appear at risk: three species of bats, a raccoon, eight horses and an eastern chipmunk have all tested positive for the virus, McLean said. And the number of mosquito species carrying the virus has jumped from one to eight including mosquitoes that bite during the day as well as dawn and dusk biters.

Since January, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center has tested:
* Bird carcasses/tissues - 1230 (543 of those are crows)
* Bird serums - 1990
* Mammal carcasses/tissues - 277 (154 bats, 123 other mammals)
* Mammal serums - 24 (primarily zoo species)

USGS Researchers will be back in New York and New Jersey next week with officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testing more bi

Contact: Butch Kinerney
United States Geological Survey

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