Public Health Concerns

Discussion in 'Local Chicken Laws & Ordinances' started by lngrid, Dec 4, 2009.

  1. lngrid

    lngrid Songster

    Backyard chicken-keeping is illegal in my city. I'm a member of BYC because I've really been wanting chickens. I've been looking into helping reshape the laws where I live, reading a lot about arguments in favor of urban chickens . These usually address public health concerns by talking about bird flu. But no one mentions the other diseases that cross the avian-human species barrier. I've been reading about those diseases today and there are a number of them. One of them is called histoplasmosis. Here's a bit of what I've been reading:

    Certain fungi prefer to grow in soils enriched with avian manures. Histoplasma capsulatum is one of these. The fungus is also associated with construction sites and caves. Birds are not susceptible to infection, but histoplasmosis can affect humans, dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, horses, and many wild mammals.

    The incubation period is 7-14 days. Most cases in humans are asymptomatic. Disease may be manifested in three forms: acute pulmonary (most common), chronic cavitary pulmonary, and disseminated. The acute pulmonary form is influenza-like and lasts up to several weeks. It is characterized by chills, chest pain, nonproductive cough, fever, and malaise. The chronic form occurs in people over 40 and resembles tuberculosis. It is characterized by a productive cough, pus-like sputum (material expelled from the respiratory passages), weight loss, and shortness of breath. The disseminated form occurs in the very young or the elderly. Lesions include enlarged spleen and liver, and mucosal ulceration. The disseminated form of histoplasmosis can be fatal if not treated. Amphotericin B has been used to treat histoplasmosis.

    Transmission occurs by inhalation of spores produced by growth of the mold. Histoplasmosis is not a communicable disease. The reservoir is the soil, especially when enriched with droppings from birds or bats. Wet the area and wear a face mask or respirator when working in suspect surroundings. Spraying the soil with a formaldehyde solution has been used to kill the fungi.

    Although this disease is avian-associated, it is not a zoonotic disease, because the reservoir is soil and not the birds. This is, however, of little consequence to the unfortunates who become infected.

    In Florida, histoplasmosis is a reportable disease. If a person is suspected of having histoplasmosis, the county public health office must be notified within 48 hours.

    Links to a document offering arguments in favor of backyard chicken-keeping have recently been posted in this forum and it says that urban chickens were banned because it became socially unacceptable to maintain ties to a more agrarian past. But I don't think that's what happened in my city. In 1959 chicken flocks all over the large valley that surrounds my city were hit by an epidemic of a disease that passes from chickens to humans through dried manure dust. I think reaction to that is what got backyard poultry banned.

    So, what kind of reassurance can those in favor of urban poultry give to those who are concerned about infectants like histoplasmosis in urban yards?
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2009
  2. bargain

    bargain Love God, Hubby & farm

    Apr 13, 2008
    Bowdon, GA
    You've done some interesting research. I would suggest you ask about what the disease was that went rampant and it's origin....It may have been in commercial chicken houses.

    I'd be concerned about formaldehyde solution and it's widespread effects on the land and as it seeps into your ground the water it affects fishing in lakes, wildlife, etc. I think your other citizens might be as well.

    I'm certain I wouldn't want to drink formaldehyde solution or plant vegetables where it had been sprayed, but that's my prejudice as a organic principalled farmer.

    Mobile tractors, moved regularly would be a viable option if presented to the city. They would prevent the dust from being able to form...

    I believe that histoplasmosis is also born by other animals - such as cats, but please check on that.

    There are many fungi in the soil - geotrichum is one of those....Many folks are susceptible to all sorts of fungus, molds, etc. But the main question to me is whether or not this becomes airborn and widely disseminated. I would question how will a small flock spread this.....I can see the risk of large chicken houses which may not get cleaned but now twice a year and what the dust of 400 or more chickens can produce in that time!

    I cannot imagine how lungs are comprimised in the suburbs or even the rural area by pesticides, weed killers, etc., to say nothing of what this does to our dwindling honey bees .....the threat of their loss could wipe out a large part of American agriculture - - what we eat.

    Best of luck!
  3. lngrid

    lngrid Songster

    The local disease outbreak was Candidiasis, and it was in commercial chicken houses. Here's a link to the report. Unfortunately, it seems Dr. Mayeda passed away a few years ago.

    I haven't been concerned about dissemination through the air alone. If keeping chickens becomes as common as keeping other kinds of pets, would it be much more common for yards to be infected with histoplasmosis? Should keeping chickens be regulated by a permit that requires treating the run some way to kill the fungus before transfering or renting the property, OR to notify prospective buyers? Many people have compromised or suppressed immune systems for reasons ranging from post-polio syndrome to medications.

    And while other animals may carry it, it seems to breed in soil enriched by avian or bat droppings, like poultry runs and caves. I've found no mention of it flourishing in soil containing dog or cat feces. The italicized quotation in my original post came from the University of Florida.
    Here's what the Center for Disease Control has to say about it.
    This page at the Mayo Clinic site talks about who's at risk, but the other pages are also informative.

    Histoplasmosis was only part of the point I was trying to make. There are other diseases that cross the avian-human species barrier than the ones commonly brought up. I'm concerned that this issue may not be fully addressed when communities are shaping their urban poultry policies. With the difficulties we're seeing in health-care availability and coverage, should this be something we address carefully?
  4. theFox

    theFox Songster

    Sep 21, 2009
    Standish, Maine

    in cats and dogs.

    There are many fungal infections that affect animals.

    The other problem you mentioned is also known as thrush and it too affects many animals.

    The fungus is primarily transmitted by disturbing the ground it is already in. Some manures make better growing mediums for the fungi than others.
  5. bargain

    bargain Love God, Hubby & farm

    Apr 13, 2008
    Bowdon, GA
    You said "I haven't been concerned about dissemination through the air alone. If keeping chickens becomes as common as keeping other kinds of pets, would it be much more common for yards to be infected with histoplasmosis? Should keeping chickens be regulated by a permit that requires treating the run some way to kill the fungus before transfering or renting the property, OR to notify prospective buyers? Many people have compromised or suppressed immune systems for reasons ranging from post-polio syndrome to medications."

    Ingrid you raise interesting perspectives....I have extreme allergies and we bought a farm house which I was assured was a "non"smoking house....Well while doing some renovations to the bathroom, I found several packs of marlboros under a loose board in the closet......I guess the husband was "smoking" in the bathroom and wife didn't know it....Funny thing is I kept smelling smoke and couldn't find it. There are so many triggers for persons with special health needs. I think you should certainly discuss with your realtor any concerns you have regarding disclosure. I don't make light of persons with special needs, with my allergies, asthma and brochiatasis, I must be careful at all times.

    I don't think that chickens need to be permitted any more than dogs or kittens or cats. Owners need to be responsible for their health and that of the pets/animals for whom they care.

    I believe that one of the reasons government costs so much of our money is that there seems a need to regulate everything. All the regulations in the world cannot substitute for common sense and a caring attitude toward our animals, our land and our neighbors.

    I think we also need to be concerned about ticks.....and rabies and rabid dog bits .for example.....that can cause incredible problems. We need to be concerned about air pollution from smog. Sufficient water and water quality.....

    I'm not trying to "down play your concerns" but if I in my frail health am not afraid of my chickens, I'm not an incredibly brave person but my chickens are in trailers and have lots of room on our farm and neither they are ill or I from them...

    I'll let some one else address anything else they wish...

    Thanks for the interesting exchange and have a blessed evening.
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2009
  6. lngrid

    lngrid Songster

    Quote:Yes, it is carried by many other mammals, too. But one of it's prime breeding grounds seems to be soil carrying bird feces.
    Quote:What's the name of the disease that cats can carry and can infect humans with no symptoms but causes birth defects in human embryos? The one that's the reason pregnant women are warned not to have contact with litterboxes or feces?
    Quote:Yes, it does. And it's been a serious problem in the valley where I live for quite some time, according to the veterinarian who wrote the report I mentioned.
    Quote:One of them seems to be chicken feces.

    I'd like to make it very clear to everyone that I'm not trying to pick an argument here. I want to keep chickens. I want it very much. I am asking help in looking at the issue of whether or not keeping chickens in urban settings can be done in a way that will cause harm to the fewest number of people.

    The main part of the point I'm trying to make has been an implied one, I guess. I'm trying to look at the reasons chicken-raising has been forbidden in many areas. I'm trying to decide if the reasons were ever valid and if they still are.

    Thanks for your post, theFox.
  7. lngrid

    lngrid Songster

    Quote:If I wrote anything implying that I thought you were making light or anything or being disrespectful in any way, I didn't mean to and I apologize. You've never given that impression to me. It seemed to me you were thinking of one possibility and I was thinking of another and that both were valid. (All snipping above done by me.)
    Quote:I agree with you. I was thinking of the health of people who would be buying property where chickens had been kept. Shouldn't the owners be required to disclose that the soil might contain histoplasmosis? This problem is rare right now, but what about in the future when chicken keeping is more common?
    Quote:I agree. However, regulations are the bandaid fix we have to have because enough people don't have this common sense, responsible attitude.
    Quote:Thanks, bargain, for talking this over with me in an open, calm way. I'm conflicted because I want chickens, but I don't want to break the law. I want to change it. However, the law came about for a reason and before I start working to change it, I want to make sure the reasons it was passed are not valid anymore.
  8. AZKat

    AZKat Songster

    Apr 7, 2009
    Histoplasmosis can also be spread by wild birds and bats, so I think that you might be exaggerating the risk posed by people keeping domestic chickens, especially since most people who get histoplasmosis don't show any symptoms, in fact, in areas where histoplamosis is endemic, 80% of people are already infected. Or so says this article on eMedicine:
    disease that people can get from cat feces is toxoplasmosis. The fact of the matter is, most people who have been around cats have been exposed. Urging pregnant women to be cautious makes sense, as the risks are high if the woman contracts toxoplasmosis, while she is pregnant, and its easy to minimize exposure.
    If I'm understanding the articles correctly, histoplasmosis is pretty much the same thing, a lot of people have had it and don't know it, and its pretty easy to minimize the risk of catching it from chickens-just wear a mask when cleaning the coop, and clean the coop frequently.
    This seems to be true of most of the diseases that can be spread by chickens-keep the coop clean or move the tractor frequently, give the birds access to clean water and healthy food and the risk of disease are minimal. All of those issues can be addressed by writing requirements into the city code that coops be kept clean. Honestly, I'd be less worried about disease coming from a pampered back yard flock, than I would disease coming from a commerical poultry house.
  9. lngrid

    lngrid Songster

    Hi, Azkat.

    I don't seem to be explaining myself clearly and that's no one's fault but my own. :frustrated:

    I wasn't envisioning a SARs-like epidemic that is spread through the air or human contact. I'm concerned about people moving onto property that has high concentrations of histoplasmosis growing in a patch of soil in the backyard that used to be a chicken run, and not knowing about it. Most people get it and don't have symptoms, but I'm concerned about people whose immune systems are compromised. For example: a family keeps six hens in a backyard coop with a run. They're responsible and keep the coop clean, but histoplasmosis grows in the soil under the run. After a while they stop keeping chickens, take down the run, convert it to a garden and convert the coop to a garden shed. Never having been told what histoplasmosis is, they innocently sell the house to someone who is taking corticosteroids for COPD. The buyer is never told that chickens used to be kept in the backyard because the subject never comes up. The buyer with COPD likes to sit out in the backyard while their spouse works in the garden with a rototiller. Because the person on steroids is vulnerable, they get a nasty infection and are hit with expensive medical bills because of the fungus in their backyard. If the buyer had known about birds having been kept in the back yard, they could have made an informed decision about whether to buy the property or whether to spend time in the backyard. I know this happens rarely, if ever now, but it doesn't seem like a far-fetched concern if chicken-keeping becomes more common where I live. And people on steroids are only one type of person vulnerable to the fungus.

    I really have been trying not to exaggerate the danger, because like I said before, I really want to have chickens. I bore all my friends talking about them. Even my boss teased me the other day about wanting chickens so badly. The long quote that starts this thread was from the Electronic Data Information System of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida. I quoted it because I thought the University of Florida wouldn't exaggerate the danger. I'll check around the University of California at Davis' website and see what they have to say about it.
  10. lngrid

    lngrid Songster

    I found my answer. I searched the Integrated Pest Management website which is run by UC Davis and it said that 99% of histoplasmosis cases are found in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys. It is rarely found in California where I live. So my concern is over, but I'd suggest that others carefully consider public health when re-examining keeping poultry in cities.

    Thank you theFox, bargain and Azkat. You helped teach me something new and I feel better now about chickens. I'm so happy!

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by