Chickens as Sentinels in Monitoring West Nile Virus Spread

The West Nile Virus has spread in several countries throughout the world due to the migratory nature of a number of species of birds. Although it is a known fact that mosquitoes are primary carriers of the virus, the nature of birds to travel to other countries to escape winter season caused the spread of the virus. Birds bitten by infected mosquitoes become carriers of the virus. When they migrate to other countries and are bitten by other mosquitoes there, those mosquitoes become carriers of the virus as well, thus the spreading of the WNV.

Chicken WNV Sentinels

Due to this, researchers needed a way to track the spread of West Nile Virus. These researchers opted to use poultry – chickens in particular – to monitor the spread. They chose chickens because they are also members of the bird family, are inexpensive, and most importantly, chickens develop antibodies to the virus within a week making isolation of the virus possible. Also, though chickens may be infected, they show virtually no signs of the infection.

Another important thing is that the level of virus in a chicken’s blood is not high enough for to infect mosquitoes. After confirming all of this, researchers then stationed the healthy chickens outside to be monitored for WVN infection. When the chickens became infected the researchers then knew that mosquitoes in the area were capable of spreading the disease.

Can Chicken Meat and Eggs still be eaten?

Humans can only be infected by the West Nile virus if they were bitten by mosquitoes. Birds get infected by the virus also only if they were bitten by mosquitoes. No evidence has been found suggesting direct chicken-to-human transmission. There is also no evidence of chicken-to-chicken direct transmission. This means that chicken meat and eggs can still be eaten, provided that the chickens are generally healthy. Proper cleansing and cooking procedures is advised.

What about other fowl creatures?

Turkeys have shown almost the same response to the WNV virus as chickens. Turkeys showed mild reaction to the virus, followed by rapid immune response. However, same cannot be said of other fowl creatures, such as ducks, as they live around water where mosquitoes thrive.

How should dead birds be handled?

The West Nile Virus cannot be gotten from dead birds. However, it is advised that proper materials like gloves, be used for disposal of dead birds or any dead animal for that matter. Exposure, not to WNV, but to other bacteria is possible.

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