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Encephalitis Found in Bird Species

November 21, 1999

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ A rare encephalitis virus blamed for seven deaths in the New York City region has been found in 18 species of birds, adding to concerns that the virus could be spread as the birds migrate south, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center said.

Infected birds have turned up in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Robins, blue jays and bald eagles were among the species that have tested positive for the virus, though the infection levels were highest among crows, the scientists said.

The National Wildlife Health Center, based in Madison, began testing dead birds from the New York area in early September for the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine why crows were dying in large numbers.

Saint Louis Encephalitis was suspected, but the strain finally identified was similar to West Nile encephalitis, never before reported in the Western Hemisphere.

Health officials say the virus, which causes swelling of the brain in humans, was transferred by mosquitoes. How it got to the United States remains unclear.

``Wildlife mortality, in this case with the crows, became an indicator of public health risk, which is really unique in this outbreak,″ Bob McLean, director of the National Wildlife Health Center, said in Saturday’s editions of The Capital Times.

Dozens of crows but only a few birds from each of the other species were among about 140 birds that tested positive for the virus, McLean said.

``It is too early to tell if this is because they are not as susceptible or they were not as readily observed as crows,″ he said.

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