Friday, June 30, 2017

Americans turn to chickens to keep ticks at bay despite little scientific support

(AP photo)
With fears of Lyme disease high, some Americans are flocking to chickens to save the day, albeit with little evidentiary support.

"Two American traditions are colliding this summer," writes Anupreeta Das of The Wall Street Journal. "One involves people . . . keeping yardbirds for their eggs or meat as part of a move toward local and organic food. The other is a nation convulsing with fear of Lyme disease. The chick people think they have the solution to the tick problem—even if there is little science to support it."

A mild winter and growing populations of deer and mice have led to one of the worst tick seasons in years, scientists say, particularly in the Northeast. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate there are more than 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. each year, three times the rate two decades ago, Das notes. "Public attention around tick-borne illnesses, including one that leaves victims allergic to red meat, is mounting. The CDC advises people to take lots of precautions to avoid getting bitten by ticks, from staying away from tall grass to creating a barrier of wood chips between lawns and wooded areas. The CDC declined comment on the use of chickens, saying that was out of its 'area of expertise,'" Das reports.

"We don't need a study if we know experientially it works," said Steven Bibula, a Maine farmer. However, not every is on board with the anecdotal method of tick control. "To say I have a chicken and therefore won’t get Lyme, that is dangerous," said Lee Ann Sporn, a biologist at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks.  Sporn told Das at least one study has found that wild birds can host Lyme-disease-causing bacteria and said she has no reason to believe that chickens would be any different.

(WSJ photo)
Timothy Driscoll, assistant professor at West Virginia University who studies tick-borne microbes, said there are few scientific studies on the subject, and they all focus on guinea fowl, a noisier alternative to chickens, Das writes. However, guineas are easily startled and squawk loudly. Guineas "don’t get along with the UPS man or guests or the dog," Bibula said.

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