Last summer’s raptor die-off across Ohio linked to West Nile


COLUMBUS – West Nile virus is the presumed cause of death for hundreds of owls, hawks and other birds of prey in Ohio this year, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife.

Test results issued by the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., supported similar findings by pathologists at the Ohio Department of Agriculture that indicated some raptors found sick or dead in Ohio during July and August suffered from West Nile virus.

The center labeled its results as “presumptive” because active virus was found in both hawks, but in only two of the five great-horned owls. However, findings did not suggest any other cause of death for the birds submitted.

Pathologists now believe that West Nile virus may be transitory in the blood of some birds and may dissipate by the time infection has resulted in death.

Thousands affected. According to state estimates, several thousand raptors in Ohio have been affected by the virus, which is carried by mosquitoes.

Not all the infected birds died; many survived the disease on their own and some are recovering at raptor rehabilitation centers around the state.

Ohio hit hardest. Ohio appeared to be at the center of an unprecedented raptor die-off that swept through the Midwest in late summer. While birds in other states were also affected, Ohio’s case count was the highest, ODNR officials said.

Reports of dead and ill birds have diminished significantly in recent weeks and wildlife biologists believe the disease is at the end of its run for this year.

“Temperatures are cooling and we’ve already had frost in much of the state, killing off the mosquitoes that carry the virus,” said Pat Ruble, wildlife administrator at ODNR.

Don’t over-react. Ruble added that hunters now in the field need not fear contracting West Nile virus through handling or eating waterfowl or other wild birds. However, he cautioned hunters to always exercise the following practices when handling any wild game:

* Avoid handling any bird or animal that appears sick;

* Wear vinyl gloves when field dressing any game;

* Cook game birds until well done;

* Soak utensils used to prepare game birds for 20 minutes in a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water.


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