Monday, April 8, 2013

Bird flu from the backyard flock? No.

With the recent deaths attributed to the H7N9 strain of bird flu in China, we should prepare ourselves for an influx of trollish comments about avian influenza appearing on any and all stories about backyard chickens.

Last time around (with the H5N1 fright in 2008/2009) it seemed no discussion on legalizing urban chickens could avoid at least one paranoid citizen piping up with "Chickens in the city? Haven't you heard of bird flu?!"

And while I posted back then about how urban chickens are actually part of the solution to stopping the spread of bird flu, I think it's worth revisiting the topic today.

How likely is it you'll get bird flu from a backyard flock of hens and die? If you're like 98% of the readers of this blog who live outside of China and Southeast Asia: it's nearly impossible.

At right, you'll see a snapshot of the World Health Organization's (WHO) map of the spread of H5N1 in 2012 to see where it is (click on the map for a larger image).

Notice anything missing?

That's right, the Americas. And why? Because there still has never been a recorded case of H5N1 bird flu in North or South America (or Europe, outside Turkey).

Why? Because it's very very very difficult for H5N1 to spread across such great distances, and even so, avian flu needs certain conditions to spread: crowded facilities of thousands of stressed hosts in close contact. Those conditions are never found in a backyard coop.

In fact, so long as we take good care of our hens and ourselves, our backyard coops are actually a buffer to the spread of any virus.

So the next time someone cries out about backyard chickens spreading bird flu, feel free to call them Chicken Little and show them a copy of the WHO map above.

Interested in learning more? I highly recommend reading Bird Flu--A Virus of Our Own Hatching by Michael Greger, MD.

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