CAVE SPRINGS, Mo. -- John Larson's 30 free-range chickens in Southwest Missouri have become part of a project to monitor the spread of the West Nile virus in the state.
Army reservists go to Larson's 10-acre farm north of Cave Springs once a month to test the flock for the virus that first appeared in Missouri last year among crows in the St. Louis area.
Since late July, the virus is the confirmed or suspected cause of death for 23 birds and nine horses around the state. There have been no confirmed human cases in Missouri.
The Springfield-Greene County Health Department called Larson earlier this year to ask about testing the flock of Sentinel chickens that he keeps as a hobby. The agency was looking for someone with a small flock of chickens that would be kept for several years.
Two other farmers in the area also cooperated in the testing.
"Chickens typically don't die from the West Nile virus, they build antibodies to fight it off and we test for those antibodies," said Clay Goddard, environment community health planner for the Health Department.
This is the first year the testing has been done on chickens in Missouri.
So far, none of the Springfield-area specimens has tested positive for the virus.