Although the term "sentinel chicken" sounds like an oxymoron, it's a perfect term for what they are. California keeps flocks of chickens around the state and tests their blood every week for antibodies to a variety of illnesses that they either want to track (like West Nile) or panic about (like Exotic Newcastle). This article struck me as funny because:
- Duh! California has had WNV for at least six years. It's summer. There are mosquitoes. Why would we expect to not have it?
- After all this time, I still think "The Sentinel Chickens" would make an excellent band name.
- Although I've always assumed that there is a sentinel chicken flock somewhere nearby (given the fact that there is a state lab next to the vet school), I've never seen it confirmed. The form we had members of the public fill out when turning in injured wildlife asked "How far away is the nearest sentinel chicken flock (if known)?" Not once did anybody answer that question. (That form also asked more relevant things such as 1) How long have you had this animal? and 2) What have you fed it? We received a lot of interesting answers to those questions...)
But anyhow, that was the summer that everyone in California was first panicking about WNV, and the path department didn't want to get a reputation for killing off the students, so every time a neuro horse arrived they closed the floor to the students and made the resident do the post-mortem. But... at the same time, the students did all of the bird necropsies. And by students, I mean that I did all the bird necropsies since none of the other students on the rotation wanted anything to do with them. A horse dying of WNV will have some low viral level in their blood, and you wouldn't want to inject yourself with it (although most people get West Nile and develop antibodies without even realizing they're sick), but birds... birds have a huge viremic load, to the point that you might not even need to transfer it directly into your blood. Sometimes there's no room for logic on the dance floor.
In other interesting West Nile stuff, one of the professors at LSU worked with alligators (since alligator farming is a huge industry in Louisiana) and proved that the disease causing blemishes on the hides of alligators was actually West Nile. The only problem was that the hide-scarring disease showed up in Florida one year before WNV was recognized by a veterinarian in a New York zoo.
So, okay, I think I've transferred all my West Nile knowledge. Someday I may even start wearing mosquito repellent. But probably not...