With the recent discovery of Santa Clarita’s second bird infected with the West Nile Virus, residents are reminded that the virus is active and continues to threaten California.
While the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District does their best advising the public on how to avoid the virus, they have a specialized unit working for them around the clock: sentinel chickens.
According to Crystal Brown, Public Information Officer for the GLACVCD, Los Angeles County’s sentinel chicken flocks are deployed in strategic areas to monitor communicable diseases.
The chickens are given a blood test twice a month to check for West Nile. Since the chickens are unlikely to house or transmit the disease, veterinarians look for the related antibodies to see if the virus is present in the area.
“That’s mainly what we’re testing for,” said Brown, “but if we were under the notion that another disease was present, then we would look into that as well.”
As of this year, none of the sentinel chickens have tested positive for WNV or its related antibodies. Brown credits this to the cooler weather, but thinks that may change during the current Southern California heat wave as mosquitoes breed more rapidly.
Mosquitoes transmit the disease to humans and livestock after feeding on infected dead birds, known as the reservoir host.
Only two humans have tested positive for this disease this year in California, both in Stanislaus County.
The elderly and those with weakened immune systems are especially susceptible to the virus. There is currently no known cure.
To avoid infection, the GLAVCD suggests wearing insect repellant, eliminating stagnant water (where mosquitoes breed) and avoiding mosquito-populated areas.