We are one of those households hit hard by Lyme disease. In fact, 4 of my 6 children have tested positive for the Lyme bacteria and various co-infections. Symptoms range from moderate (stomach aches, headaches, and fatigue) to crippling arthritis and constant pain. Lyme disease is out there, it’s here to stay, and it is truly a medical nightmare.
Imagine my delight, when I discovered that chickens like to eat ticks. An excellent reason (besides the eggs and companionship) to forever have a flock in your backyard. Right?
But that tick issue still bothered me. I’m an ex-clinical microbiologist and I know that bacteria (especially spirochetes) can be a very troubling topic. If a chicken can be a host to a virus that can be transmitted to humans (Avian Influenza) wouldn’t it stand to reason that they could also play host to various bacteria that could also be transmitted?
We already know that chickens can host various bacterial infections from Staph and E. Coli in skin infections to various pathogenic bacteria found in the lungs and intestines.
If it’s known that tick nymphs live on rodents and it’s also known that rodent populations increase around chickens (it’s all that feed that falls out of the feeders) then wouldn’t there be a chance that ticks could attach to chickens (if lice can live on chickens, why not ticks?) spreading the Lyme bacteria?
And lastly, if the Lyme bacteria can be transmitted through the human placenta, should we be concerned about eggs from those chickens who eat ticks and who presumably might then have Lyme disease?
Is it really that unlikely a scenario?
I asked a good friend of mine, Tracy Risley, who is a Veterinarian practicing on Cape Cod, about Lyme Disease and chickens and she told me that she’s “never heard of a case of Lyme Disease being contracted from a chicken.” A quick search on the internet confirms this. There are no reported cases of Lyme disease in chickens being transmitted to a human.
In some ways that’s reassuring, there are no studied cases of chickens passing on this horrible and potentially life altering disease.
But then in other ways, what’s really distressing is that there are no studied cases of chickens passing on Lyme to humans. Is this because it doesn’t happen or is it because someone hasn’t studied it?
I did find one experiment, however, authored by Piesman J,Dolan MC, Schriere ME and Burkot TR where the study concluded:
“Chickens were used as a laboratory model to determine the conditions affecting the ability of birds to infect ticks with Lyme disease spirochetes. Chicks (Gallus gallus) were exposed to 12 nymphal Ixodes scapularis at one week or three weeks of age. Xenodiagnostic larval ticks fed these birds at weekly intervals thereafter. Chicks exposed to infected nymphs at one week of age infected 87% of larvae at three weeks of age, but only infected 3% of larvae at four weeks and 0% of larvae at five weeks. Chicks exposed to nymphs at three weeks of age infected only 12% of larvae at four weeks, and 0% thereafter. Thus, experimentally infected chicks can infect larval ticks, but only for a brief interval after exposure. Young chicks are more infectious than older chickens. The immune response of infected chicks was rapid and directed against diverse antigens.”
So it is possible.
People have accused me of being at times the “Lyme Lady” (honestly if you saw what it’s done to my kids, you wouldn’t blame me for being somewhat of an alarmist.) As one who has worked in the microbiological field and as one who lives in an area where if you are bitten by a tick, you have a 70% chance of being exposed to Lyme disease, I say it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- For me, I plan to continue using basic bio-hazard precautions. I use gloves when working with chicken wounds, just as I would with working on a human wound.
- If I need to cull a bird, gloves are necessary equipment.
- We don’t eat any raw eggs in our house (not even for eggnog) and all eggs that we eat are fully cooked.
- Poop is quickly picked up and disposed of.
- Soap and water after handling the chickens is mandatory.
Am I one of those Lyme conspirists? You know, one of those people who sees Lyme disease everywhere? Maybe. Who knows. All I know is that until the Lyme-chicken connection is studied and there is a definitive yes or no – my family and I not going to take any chances.
It’s simply not worth it.