July 7, 2023
MCHD places sentinel chickens throughout the county to monitor for diseases
MOBILE, Ala. — Since 1985, the Mobile County Health Department’s (MCHD) Vector Services has monitored sentinel chickens placed throughout the county to help detect the presence of viruses carried by mosquitoes. The practice is being renewed, as the first of 13 coops were deposited this week in various predetermined locations.
“MCHD continues to conduct countywide surveillance and spraying for mosquitos,” said Dr. Kevin Philip Michaels, Health Officer of Mobile County. “We are presently positioning our sentinel chickens throughout the county and watch for our MCHD spraying vehicles in our community.”
In April, 100 chicks arrived at Vector Services (a vector is any insect, rodent, or animal capable of harboring or transmitting diseases to humans) the day after being hatched. Vector Services keep the chickens in a facility that is a half-enclosed hen house and half-screened yard. It has taken several months for the chickens to mature enough to be placed into service.
Prior to the coops being dispatched, the chickens received their initial blood draws to ensure they were healthy. They have also been vaccinated for fowl pox.
Starting soon, the Vector Services inspectors will draw blood samples from the wings of two hens, usually on Mondays. The samples are sent to the Florida Department of Health Laboratory in Tampa. The tests can reveal the presence of West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and St. Louis Encephalitis.
With the use of 13 coops, it means only 52 hens are used at one time. The rest are kept in reserve at Vector Services. The program continues into the fall, usually until Thanksgiving or mid-December. At that point, the hens are given away to the people at the locations where the coops are kept. A new group of 100 chicks will start the program the following spring.
Vector Services also has mosquito traps set up across Mobile County. The traps are used with reports from inspectors and complaints from the public to track the local mosquito population. There are more than 50 species of mosquitoes in Mobile County.
Since 2018, those collections from the traps are brought to researchers at the University of South Alabama on a weekly basis. An entomologist will identify and sort the mosquitoes into pools. A virologist will screen the pools for viruses Dengue, Zika and Chikungunya — along with West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and St. Louis Encephalitis — using high-throughput molecular methods.
Vector Services’ fleet of trucks has been covering 50 routes across Mobile County with night-time spraying since May. Vector Services is rotating first- and second-generation chemical insecticides and organo-phosphates so that no tolerance is built up in the mosquito population.
A new online portal is now available to help the public request assistance from Vector Services and receive feedback on their request to deal with mosquitoes or rodents. To learn more about the department, you may visit https://mchd.org/vector-control. From there, you can find a link and a QR code to access the new online portal for ordering services. The telephone numbers for those without internet access are 251-690-8124 for Mosquito Control and 251-690-8819 for Rodent Control.