Letter: Responsible chicken keeping not threat to humans

From: William Porter


Thank you to The Republic for highlighting bird flu in backyard flocks in the Jan. 19 edition, “Virus carries dangers for backyard chickens.”

This is one of the major concerns those opposed to the practice of backyard chicken keeping are least informed about. Bird flu, just like other viruses and bacteria, can be effectively prevented through the precautions listed in the article, including minimizing the contact of birds with other flocks and practicing basic sanitation methods.

The safeguards listed are very similar to those that all responsible animal owners should practice, no matter what type of animal they keep. Pets of all types can be carriers of viruses and bacteria that are known to have the ability to be transmitted to their owners. Pet owners should minimize this risk by keeping their animals properly contained and cleaning up and handling their waste in a responsible manner.

For example, having dogs dewormed and not directly handling dog feces is extremely important as hookworm and roundworm can be transmitted to humans through direct contact with affected feces or even with the soil where feces are located.

On the contrary, bird flu and specifically the H7N8 strain identified in Dubois County have not been proven to be transmittable to humans.

Per the Indiana State Department of Health frequently asked questions answer sheet for H7N8 avian influenza, “No human cases of H7N8 infection have been detected in the U.S. or other countries.” ISDH also states that “people cannot contract avian influenza by driving past a poultry operation or smelling its odor.”

Also, one should note that the vast majority of bird flu outbreaks, including the recent outbreak in Dubois County, have occurred in commercial farming operations.

Some of the major differences between commercial and backyard chicken keeping practices are the scale of the operation and the number of animals in a small space. When an illness spreads between a backyard flock, a handful of birds may become infected. Whereas when an illness spreads in a commercial flock, thousands of birds may become infected. In the recent commercial farming outbreaks of bird flu in southwest Indiana, entire flocks were simply slaughtered to quell the spread of the sickness.

The Republic published an update to the Dubois County outbreak on Jan. 20 which stated that several hundred thousand chickens and turkeys were killed to prevent the spread of the illness.

The practice of backyard chickens is not a new idea and has been successfully practiced in cities across Indiana and the U.S. for multiple years without creating a breeding ground for rare viruses and diseases. For more information on what responsible backyard chicken keeping practices include, I would urge you to go to the Columbus Homeowners Initiative for Chicken Keeping’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/columbuschickenkeeping.