Chickens help fight West Nile

INDIO, Calif. - The West Nile virus is now  in the Coachella Valley and it's making people sick.  So far, two people have been hospitalized and are now recovering from the potentially deadly virus.  That number could be a lot higher if not for the help of chickens. 

"We have 10 different flocks of chickens and they are located throughout the Valley," said Coachella Valley vector ecologist Greg While. 

These Sentinel Chickens as they are known, sit all day and all night, just waiting to bitten by a West Nile carrying mosquito. 

"We take a blood sample from them about every two weeks and we look in that blood sample to see if they have an antibody to one of the viruses that we are interested in," explained White.

It's a process that works.  The latest round of test results show six of their chickens tested positive for the virus.

"In our Valley there are about 10 different kinds of mosquitoes, in the country there are about a hundred," said White. That's millions of mosquitoes that the Coachella Valley Vector Control tries to keep away from the public.  However getting rid of all them is nearly impossible. 

"It would be a very expensive, laborious process and I think if we if can just keep their populations down that will be sufficient," said White.

 Instead, Vector Control finds where the mosquitoes are and sprays pesticide.   

"We want to concentrate all of our mosquito control efforts to the areas we know are the biggest mosquito problems," said White.

That's where the chickens and mosquito traps come in.  Traps help identify where mosquitoes are concentrated, the chickens help identify areas the traps may miss. So, why chickens?

"The biggest reason is that they don't transmit the virus, so if they get an infection they don't make enough virus to where they will carry it to another mosquito.  They just make enough to make antibodies for us to detect," said White.

Once the chicken tests positive for West Nile, it's given away and replaced with a new one. 

"They are perfectly safe, they don't carry any virus or are harmful to people," said White.

The chickens often times end up with a local family to spend the rest of it's days laying eggs.

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