Clucking Hell - Could Your Backyard Chooks Be A Biohazard?
Urban sprawl and climate change lead to potential disease timebomb
We live in a world full of biosecurity threats, from industrial accidents to threats of biological warfare or terrorism.
But one potentially deadly threat could be wandering unchecked around ordinary suburban gardens. That’s right, we’re talking about the backyard bioterrorist: the chicken.
Infectious diseases experts from the CSIRO says there’s a growing risk that the humble chook could be the bearer of a nasty zoonotic disease (meaning humans can catch it from an animal).
And don’t think you’re safe if you’ve got a pig or a goat – they’re potential deathtraps too.
The problem stems from a blurring of the boundaries between domestic and wild animals, in particular on the outskirts of cities and towns.
"As urban populations spread out, they move into forested areas, natural areas and therefore you're starting to come in closer contact with wild animals," CSIRO research director for Health and Biosecurity Paul De Barro told the ABC.
That means animals like bats, who may be carrying diseases such as the deadly Hendra or Nipah viruses.
"Climate change is also thought to be a factor, where you've got animals changing their behaviour,” Dr De Barro added. “For example, flying foxes are becoming increasingly urbanised - 50 years ago, that wasn't the case.”
But while patient zero might only be on the outskirts of a metropolis, an outbreak could then spread throughout the region.
With chickens not requiring registration in most parts of Australia, authorities would have no idea where the risky chicks were, meaning containment would be impossible.
Even more disturbingly, these diseases could be spreading amongst our pets even now.
"We don't really know what diseases are in our native birds, marsupials, bats," Dr De Barro explained.
"And we don't monitor the frequency of these diseases, so I can't tell you whether you've got a build-up of a virus in a particular animal on the outskirts of a particular city."
While Australia hasn’t yet had any serious disease outbreaks, there’s a danger zone to our North, in South-East Asian, where people live closer to pigs, poultry and wild animals, leading to avian and swine flu outbreaks.
But if you are an owner of backyard chooks, there’s an easy way to minimise your risk - simply wash your hands if you’ve been handling animals or eggs.
One other tip – don’t kiss your chooks. Disease risk or not, it’s just gross.