November 16, 2010

It's Ok to Be Chicken, But Let's Keep Our Heads On.

The last time Law & Leg discussed backyard chickens in Sacramento, concerns about avian flu were a key sticking point. So it will be very interesting to hear from Dr. Glennah Trochet, the County of Sacramento Public Health Officer this afternoon, beginning after 3pm at council chambers in city hall.

I asked Christine Heinrichs, the environmental journalist and author of "How to Raise Chickens" and "How to Raise Poultry" about avian flu. Apparently, avian flu comes in 2 broad categories: Low and High Pathogenic. Crossover of highly pathogenic avian flu to the human population is rare, and usually happens near factory farms, which Wendell Berry calls "disease-breeding operations." Moreover, the US Geological Survey has yet to find any bird flu on this continent, even the low-pathogenic kind, after having tested 326,000 migratory birds between 2005 and 2008.

She quoted Bruce Levin, a biology professor at Emory University, "In the more than 15 years since it was first recognized, this bird flu virus has yet to cause very much mortality in humans or evolve to be readily transmitted between people."

The dangers of endemic strains of influenza are much higher; we would mostly be better off staying away from the mall and in the backyard with our chickens, ducks, pigeons, and other enthusiastic pest-control assistants.

So ask the Law & Leg Committee to act on Agenda Item #4 by directing staff to draft a backyard chicken ordinance for council discussion.

As for regular old flu (presumably including low-pathogenic avian flu if it ever gets here), Christine reports that public health research has discerned 4 major differences between our understanding of it now and in 1918:
We know a virus is responsible.
We have vaccines.
We have antiviral medications to mitigate the flu and discourage transmission
We have antibiotics and/or vaccines to address the secondary bacterial infections which appear to be the proximate cause of most flu deaths.

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