Chickens assist combat mosquito ailments such because the West Nile virus

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Amy Bennett Williams

| Fort Myers News Press
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Lee County Mosquito Control sees West Nile Virus spike in its sentinel chicken population

Lee County Mosquito Control sees West Nile Virus spike in its sentinel chicken population. No positive cases have been seen in humans.

The vanguard in Lee County’s battle against several deadly diseases is a 102-man squad strategically stationed on 785 square miles of land.

This feathered herd of soldiers is bleeding to protect residents and visitors – though their gentle weekly bloodshed only lasts a few seconds before they are brought back to the barracks, where everything they can eat is waiting for them.

Her education has been particularly valuable lately. Last month, thanks to their work, health officials were able to warn residents of the arrival of the potentially deadly West Nile virus, which was first discovered in the Rhode Island red chicken sentinel in the Lee County Mosquito Control District.

Lee tests the chickens for antibodies to a variety of diseases, including West Nile.

This year the birds tested positive all over Lee: “Inland, south, on the barrier islands – all over the county,” said Eric Jackson, assistant director, “so we know it’s out there and we warn the people in front of it Be careful and aware. “

While there is a protective West Nile vaccine for horses, there isn’t one for dogs, cats, or humans.

“Avoiding mosquito bites is the only way to prevent West Nile (in humans),” said Tammy Yzaguirre, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health in Lee County. The best prevention strategy is “Drain and Cover” which, as the name suggests, means that standing water is not available to female mosquitoes that lay eggs.

The good news is that Lee didn’t have any human cases this year, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a bad year for the bugs. (OK, technically they’re insects.)

Drought, followed by heavy rains and floods, caused a population boom in the various species that live in the region. Different types of mosquitoes carry different diseases, from heartworm in dogs to swarms of diseases known as arboviruses – short for arthropod-borne viruses – including dengue fever, chikungunya, malaria, and yellow fever. The Keys have seen at least 16 cases of dengue fever affecting Lee officials this year. So far, however, no cases have been reported here.

Only 20% of people infected with West Nile virus get sick, Jackson said, but as West Nile disease develops it can range from minor but annoying flu-like symptoms to potentially fatal meningitis.

Health Department statistics show the last time there was a confirmed case in Lee in 2018 was when a person had it. There was one case each in 2009 and 2010 and four in 2013, the earliest year for which data are available.

The sentinel chickens are an integral part of the disease control strategy in the district, the largest mosquito control district in the country. Its 90+ staff, employed year-round, include 40+ dedicated biologists, entomologists and laboratory technicians, a fleet of vehicles in excess of 100, and an air force that competes with those of a few smaller nations, including a fleet of six H. -125 helicopters. four King Air fixed-wing aircraft and two vintage DC-3s rushing through the night sky on spray missions.

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Lee County’s Assistant Director of Mosquito Control discusses the district’s role in mosquito control

Lee County’s Assistant Director of Mosquito Control discusses the district’s role in mosquito control

Lee’s district is enviable. That fiscal year, it received $ 21.5 million in ad valorem taxes, which this year was set at $ 0.2539 million, Jackson said. That means that a person who owns a $ 100,000 home prior to homestead liberation pays $ 25.39 per year to check mosquito stories.

This money gives the residents speed and efficiency. Unlike many other districts, Lee has its own lab that allows for a more nimble response than other counties that have to wait for samples to be sent to the state lab in Tampa for testing, said Milton Sterling, manager of scientific intelligence at the Tampa District.

Lee’s district can conduct two key tests on chicken blood in-house: ELISA, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, detects the presence of mosquito-borne viral antibodies in chickens’ blood samples, Sterling said. In the laboratory, the blood is centrifuged in a centrifuge to separate the red blood cells from the serum. The serum is then grown on plates that have been treated to reveal the presence of the virus.

A genetic test called real-time polymerase chain reaction is also used, which involves grinding, spinning and washing the mosquitoes to obtain viral genetic information.

Samples taken on Monday give results on Wednesday, and “those results trigger our response,” Jackson said. If they had to wait for the Tampa lab, “it wouldn’t be the end of the week and by then we would have missed the window of opportunity to respond … and that can make a world of difference.”

Timing is everything when it comes to the mosquito life cycle, which can unfold in a matter of days. The idea is to be able to treat the water in which larvae develop before they emerge as biting adults. A few days late can make a huge difference, Sterling said.

Although the chicken blood shows the presence of disease, the birds themselves don’t get sick, Sterling said. Their eggs are distributed among the district workers, and once their veins are difficult to pull, the district pulls them back. “When they’re finished, we’ll make them available to farmers,” he said.

More from our coverage: The West Nile virus is out there, officials warn. Here’s what you should know to be safe

And: Saltwater mosquitoes that are active along the coast and still waiting for the freshwater species

2017: Believe it or not, mosquitoes play an important role in nature

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