Over 100 chickens have been enlisted for a mission in which they may have to lay down their lives for the public good. The chickens are “sentinels” placed around the state to check for the West Nile virus. Iowa Department of Public Health director Mary Mincer Hansen says they’ll be taking blood samples from the chickens to monitor for the disease. State epidemiologist Patricia Quinlisk says they are “normal, everyday chickens.” Quinlisk says when the chickens get the disease, it gives health officials a “heads up” and a chance to warn the human population. West Nile is a “bird disease” according to Quinlisk, and it kills birds. Twelve flocks, each with 10 chickens, have been placed around the state. Quinlisk says at the end of the season, the people who’ve been caring for the chickens sometimes barbeque them, an announcement which prompted Quinlisk’s boss to say that’s “probably more information than we want to talk about.” Officials also collect or trap “pools” of mosquitoes, grind ’em up, and test for the West Nile virus. Earlier this week, the state’s top health officials declared that West Nile was here to stay, and two dead birds found last week in Warren County tested positive for the virus.
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