Deadly West Nile virus cases are spiking in LA. The first line of defense: chickens

From Stat News
September 29, 2017

EL MONTE, Calif. — The chickens are used to the needles.

They don’t fuss when vector ecologist Tanya Posey pulls opens the door of a coop in a community garden here, firmly grasps a Leghorn, and pulls a blood sample out of its wing vein. She’s so good, she can bleed a chicken in about 30 seconds.

That’s helpful, because she has a lot of chickens to test.

More than six dozen sentinel chickens, living in coops dotted around Los Angeles, make up one of the first lines of defense in this sprawling county’s fight against West Nile virus. The disease has been a background threat for years here, but cases have spiked this fall to worrisome levels. Six deaths have been reported by Los Angeles County this year — including three just last week.

And the cases are alarmingly severe: Of 98 reported infections here this year, 79 have led to serious neurological side effects, and 87 have required hospitalization. Because it’s still peak mosquito season, more deaths are expected.

So local public health officials this week launched an all-out attack. They’re sending teams of green-shirted vector control agents door to door to tell residents to wear bug spray, install window screens, and dump the stagnant water where the insects breed. They’re plastering the county with posters that read “It’s Not Just a Bite” and “No Es Solo Un Piquete.” They’ve even created a rap video featuring a fetid swimming pool, a giant dancing mosquito, and teams of uniformed agents rapping, “You’ve got to dump the water out, drain the water flow, tip the water out, toss the water slow.”

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