Virus Surveillance

The Academy calls on the community to help spot West Nile virus.

Like a neighborhood watch program designed to nip local crime in the bud, the Academy and other area organizations are keeping a watchful eye on their backyards to keep abreast of an imminent foe: West Nile virus. Since it first turned up on the East Coast in 1999, the virus has swept the nation, infecting birds and other animals including some humans, in every state east of the Rocky Mountains, Washington state, and most recently, California.

The virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, primarily infects birds, especially crows and jays. However, it has caused illness in everything from bats to horses to a captive harbor seal named Sirrus in New Jersey. So far this year nearly 3,500 people have been infected, 200 of whom have died. The one case in California appears to have resulted from a blood transfusion.

To ensure the virus' early detection in the Bay Area and increase awareness and preparedness, Academy pathologist Pat Morales and San Francisco Zoo veterinarian Freeland Dunker hope to see every run-over and dropped-dead mammal, rodent, and, especially, bird at their doorsteps. They urge others to get involved. Please report (or collect in plastic bags and deliver) any dead animals found on Academy grounds or within an approximate half-mile radius to Morales at, or (415) 750-7254.

The virus was first isolated from a woman in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937. Since then it has spread to Europe, the Middle East, west and central Asia, Oceania, and now North America.

Birds and small mammals, such as raccoons, have been particularly susceptible to the West Nile Virus.
Photo: Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles © CAS

Pat Morales, Academy pathologist and Freeland Dunker, San Francisco Zoo veterinarian, collaborate to collect tissues of dead animals and blood of sick animals found locally that may have succumbed to West Nile Virus. Photo: Dong Lin
Mosquitoes, especially of the genus Culex, carry the West Nile virus in their salivary glands. This image shows an adult female laying its eggs on a pond surface.
Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Map by Colleen Sudukem, CAS