Friday, March 6, 2009

Chickens running free in Changi: Will they spread bird flu?

Chickens running free in Changi: Will they spread bird flu?
STOMPer Adeline sees these chickens at a Changi carpark every morning and is concerned that they could potentially spread the bird flu. She says:

"Are we exposing ourselves to the H5N1 virus (bird flu) in our own backyard?

"These photos were taken while I was driving along Changi Road, just next to the small public car park near Jamiyah Children's Home (Darul Ma'wa).

"I see these chickens every morning after sending my son to school every weekday.

"Something needs to be done to reduce our risks of contracting the virus."

Chickens running free in Changi: Will they spread bird flu?
Chickens running free in Changi: Will they spread bird flu?

Related posts: "No avian flu here but this bird can spread other diseases" (6th March 2009)
Uncle feeds pigeons despite 'No Feeding' sign at Bencoolen Street (22nd January 2009)
Dead birds found near Taman Jurong market (4th January 2009)


Talk about being paranoid. As stated in Winged Invaders: Pest Birds of the Asia Pacific by Navjot S. Sodhi and Ilsa Sharp,
Until more is known about the life cycle of this virus, it would be wise to focus more on biosecurity in human farming practices than to divert energy to culls of wild birds.

In other words, it would be far more effective to prevent the movement of the virus in and out of farms, rather than divert resources into culling wild birds, a task which would be difficult to implement both comprehensively and effectively.

Besides, have you ever heard of sentinel chickens? The health of captive chickens is constantly monitored, providing an early warning system against pathogens such as West Nile Virus and various forms of encephalitis.

While there is always some element of risk in transmission of avian influenza and other diseases from birds to humans, it is essential to look at this threat from another perspective. I would say that it is far more likely to catch 'ordinary' influenza and other diseases from other people, but this does not mean that we go running around in Hazmat suits, or kill other people to lessen the risk of infection.

I have fond memories of encountering free-ranging flocks of domestic chickens (Gallus gallus) during my visits to Pulau Ubin many years ago. Because of fears of avian influenza, all the chickens, ducks and geese on the island were rounded up and culled in 2005, and rearing of poultry has been banned since. I guess it's some consolation that with the removal of domestic chickens from the island, the risk of the local red junglefowl suffering from genetic dilution due to breeding with their domestic cousins has been removed.

Red junglefowl, Chek Jawa