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. Outdoor enthusiasts across Iowa will get a chance to test the waters this weekend for free. Marion Conover, the Fisheries Bureau Chief with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says this is a chance for anyone to go out fishing. The DNR will have Free Fishing Days both Saturday and Sunday when anyone in Iowa can go fishing without a fishing license. Conover says this weekend can actually make his job easier. Those who fish are often better stewards for the environment, so the D-N-R would like to get as many people fishing as they can. Conover says they will also offer some clinics to teach people some things about fishing. This weekend’s events are part of National Fishing and Boating Week.
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