Botulism: A Dangerous, Bacterial Disease

Botulism; also known as Toxicoinfection, food poisoning, or Western Duck sickness; is a rare disease in chickens. This is a disease humans can get, although when humans get it, we call it, “food poisoning.” Botulism is a bacteria-causing, nervous-system-affecting sickness, which can have deadly symptoms and can be dangerous.

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An illustration of Botulism under a microscope. (Picture provided by: Wikipedia)

Chickens receive this sickness by consuming rotting food, parts of decaying organisms, or drinking organic, filthy materials in water. The bacteria causing Botulism, Clostridium Botulinum, is in phylum Firmicutes (meaning it is Gram-Postive under a microscope) and itself does not cause the disease. The toxin it produces causes Botulism. Unfortunately, Clostridium Botulinum‘s endospores are heat-resistant, meaning that they can survive in hot conditions. Because of this, it is easier to cause food poisoning in humans, if food is not cooked properly.

The symptoms of Botulism are fairly lethal. They include: lack of strength in legs, paralysis (usually of legs, neck, and/or wings), lying on side, ruffled feathers, trembling, diarrhea, a coma, and death (sometimes sudden). The percentage of birds affected by Botulism depends on the number of birds that were exposed/consumed the toxin, which is usually a high percentage. The mortality rate is also high, but it depends on the amount of toxins engulf. Sometimes the mortality rate can reach 100%.

Botulism is preventable and treatable. Preventing the sickness includes: rid chicken’s access to dead or decaying organisms (including plants), control flies and other pests, acidify soil, avoid wet litter, keep birds away from ponds and marshy areas, and don’t let chickens scratch through compost litter. Treating for Botulisms includes: eliminate the source of the toxin, flush birds with Epsom salts/molasses*, inject antitoxin, disinfect, and remove possibly-contaminated litter.

It is important to prevent Botulism in chickens, but the knowledge can also be useful to humans, as the bacterium can infect them too.

*”Flushing” chickens is giving them a laxative to eliminate toxins from their body. You can do this with Epsom salts (Also known as Magnesium Sulfate. Recommended use: one teaspoon in a half a cup of water and squirt down the bird’s throat twice a day for several days) and molasses (one pint per five gallons of water, give for no more than eight hours).

Avian Influenza

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(The common Avian Influenza virus under a microscope.)

Avian Influenza, also known as Influenza, Bird Plague, AI, or Avian Flu, is a worldwide virus, birds being the carriers. It is the most dangerous virus known, to any animal. Avian Influenza is extremely lethal, wide-spreading, and commonly has acute symptoms; it is a virus every chicken raiser and non-chicken raiser should know well.

This virus is wide-spreading and makes chickens drop like flies. Avian Influenza’s main carriers are waterfowl, mostly ducks, which are immune to the virus, but it demises chickens. Wild birds (such as sparrows, robins, and more) are not common carriers of it, strangely. The victims of this virus, chickens, can be immune, but they have to be from special lines, however, with this virus, it is rare. Avian Influenza is a huge problem mainly because it comes through flocks and can wipe out the whole flock in hours.

Avian Influenza’s symptoms are usually unseen. If symptoms are seen, they are: droopiness, listlessness, watery eyes, sneezing, rattling, coughing, ruffled feathers, lacking an appetite, weightless, low fertility, drop in egg production, shell-less eggs, increased interest in broodiness, skin hemorrhages, fever, paralysis, and diarrhea. However, the most common symptoms are sudden death without any symptoms, because it is acute. There is a chronic form, which consists of the symptoms described above.

The chances of a chicken surviving Avian Influenza are low. First, immunity to Avian Influenza is rare. Second, the mortality rate is almost 100% (for the chronic form it is a little lower though). The only treatment is for the chronic form which you can give an antibiotic to prevent further bacterial infection, if the bird survives. Survivors will become carriers for several months, which could risk the lives of copious other birds. The rate of affected, exposed birds is 100%, making it an extremely contagious disease.

Prevention for Avian Influenza is tricky and not always affective. The best way to prevent Avian Influenza in your flock are: in case of outbreak, do not wear the same shoes to your chicken coop as the ones you wore in public, especially the feed store, and never wear the same shoes after you visited some else’s chickens. Second, following the first, do not visit other people’s flocks, it’s far too risky for your chickens, and it would be an easy way to transport the virus to your birds. Three, when you have an infected birds, cull immediately. Most likely, the other birds will receive the virus too, but it is best not to take the chances, or assume they will all get it. If your flock is infected with Avian Influenza (the acute form) report the disease.

Unfortunately, some forms of Avian Influenza affect humans. The most lethal form, H5N1, has been known to kill 300 humans in Asia (the mortality rate is 60%). Catching H5N1 from birds is rare, as humans usually do not come into contact enough to catch it. The only way people have gotten Avian Influenza from chickens, is by coming into contact with the slaughtered birds, whether culled or butchered during the time of infection. Avian Influenza can also be transmitted through seals and cats. However, since some Avian Influenza strains affect swine, in Asian countries, humans sometimes catch the virus from them.  H5N1 has never spread from human-to-human, however, considering the fact that Avian Influenza has been known to mutate, it could change. In the past few year, a new strain has been known to affect humans, H7N9, which has killed around 100 people. Strangely, H7N9 does not affect poultry, nor can it be transmitted human-to-human. If the Avian Influenza virus mutates to where it can be transmitted human-to-human, it could spread like a wildfire through humans. The chances of this happening are low, since mutates are not adaptations. Mutations are traits in the DNA that do not come from the offspring’s parent(s).

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(The H5N1 [in gold] virus under a microscope.)

Since this virus is so dangerous, it is good to amass knowledge about it, not only because there could be an outbreak in poultry in your area, but even an outbreak in humans. Thanks for reading! Leave a comment if you have any questions.

Happy New Year!

Happy new year all! I can’t believe it’s 2015 already. I will be putting an article about Avian Influenza as well as a personal experience related to it soon. So, stay tuned! Have a great day!

“It’s only time, but it flies right by, and today is sweeter than we know.” –Hundred More Years by Francesca Battistelli