Using Chickens to Detect West Nile Virus

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PHOTO: DOUGLAS KAFKA, CITY OF WINNIPEG, INSECT CONTROL BRANCH
In a bizarre twist of science, experts have discovered that the farmyard fowl is immune to the West Nile virus.

The Center for Disease Control are using chickens to detect West Nile virus along U.S./Canada border.

West Nile infected mosquitoes are packing more of a punch than usual this year, so authorities have strategically placed 600 chickens along the U.S./Canada border. Yes, chickens. In a bizarre twist of science, experts have discovered that the farmyard fowl is immune to the West Nile virus, a potentially fatal, mosquito-borne disease that can cause encephalitis in humans. Scientists are using chickens to detect West Nile virus, their plan is to draw blood from the feathered martyrs once a week to test for developing antibodies; a positive result would indicate that infected mosquitoes are in the area.

“We think that the chickens are a pretty good barometer,”
says Tom Skinner, spokesman for the Center for Disease
Control in Atlanta. “It’s just a matter of making sure that
we have the resources to do what is necessary to prevent
West Nile from reemerging. Basically, there is no vaccine
to prevent the virus, and there is no drug you can use to
treat it.”

The West Nile virus first appeared in the Western
hemisphere in 1999 in New York City, claiming seven lives
and afflicting over 60 people. As MOTHER goes to press,
three people have been infected this year, and the virus
has been detected in Rhode Island, Connecticut and
Massachusetts. How the virus migrated to the U.S. is open
to speculation, although some believe that a shipment of
tires from Asia may have transported nesting mosquitoes
into New York Harbor.

Beyond the Northeast, many states are casting a watchful
eye through the use of “sentinel” chickens. Scientists at
Florida University are even developing advanced satellite
technology to create a national “risk map” to predict where
another deadly outbreak may occur.

While the chances of contracting the disease are minimal,
it doesn’t hurt to take precautions. Use insect repellent
containing DEET, get rid of standing water around the
house, and keep screen windows and doors in good condition.
After all, we have to let these insects know that they’re
too far west of the Nile.

–Devon Madison