Hundreds of chickens die of botulism

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More than 400 feral chickens in Bodden Town have died of botulism, according to a post-mortem examination carried out by the Department of Agriculture. 

The birds began dying more than two weeks ago, residents in the area said.  

Brian Crichlow of the Department of Agriculture said a post-mortem exam on one of the birds revealed botulism. The bird was also tested for avian flu, with negative results.  

Mr. Crichlow said botulism is not spread by direct contact with affected chickens, but there is a “low potential for spreading to humans and other animals through consumption of dead chickens” contaminated with the botulism toxin. 

Botulism is a micro-organism that occurs naturally in the soil and in decaying flesh. Since chickens are scavengers, they likely ate a dead animal and got sick, said Mr. Crichlow. 

The Department of Environmental Health was expected to begin removing the birds from the site, near the Bodden Town Mission House, on Wednesday afternoon, according to the department’s director, Roydell Carter. 

“We are aware of the situation. We were notified by the Department of Agriculture about it. We went on site today [Wednesday] and we will be assisting them in getting the birds removed and disinfecting the area,” he said. 

“We’re putting together the resources we need – there are so many [dead chickens] all over the place … We will go in and help. There could probably be public health implications as well [if the carcasses are not removed]. We don’t want all these dead birds lying around … where other animals might feed on their carcasses,” he added. 

On Wednesday, many of the dead chickens could be seen around the Mission House and Harry McCoy Park, and under the home of an elderly couple nearby. 

Mr. Crichlow advised that if the dead or dying birds are not removed and disposed of properly, other chickens will feed on the carcasses and the maggots from the dead chickens, leading to more chickens contracting botulism. 

Botulism is also known as “limberneck,” he said, reflecting the neck paralysis typically seen in affected birds. 

Pedro Watler, son of the couple under whose home many of the decaying carcasses were seen, said he had picked up as many as he could, but those under the house would have to stay there until he had help removing them. 

“The chickens just get crippled, lie down and die,” said Mr. Watler, who often fed the chickens. For the past two weeks, the chickens have been “dropping off like flies,” he said. 

The feral chickens roam the neighborhood and are considered pests by many in the area. 

Mr. Crichlow said there had been no reports of domestic flocks of chickens owned by local farmers being affected by botulism. 

However, he said the department had seen similar episodes before of local wild chickens dying, adding that botulism is common in feral chickens in Cayman and elsewhere. Over the past two years, his department has responded to deaths of feral chickens in George Town, West Bay and Bodden Town districts, he said. 

Karen Rosenthal, a St. Matthews Veterinary School veterinarian who studies birds, said, “It is not so easy for people to get botulism the same way chickens do. But you would never eat the eggs or meat from a chicken with botulism,” she said. “What we should worry about is if the people are using the same water source as the dead birds.” 

Kiran Kumar, medical officer of health at the public health department, said botulism from dead chickens does not spread to human beings through the air, and there is also no evidence of it spreading to humans by consumption of chickens with botulism. However, he advised against eating infected chickens to “prevent any rarest possibility of such occurrence.” 

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Hundreds of chickens that were regularly seen around the Mission House neighborhood have died of botulism. Pedro Watler, seen here feeding the chickens in 2012, says they have been dropping dead over the past two weeks. – PHOTO: JEWEL LEVY
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