It’s a low-tech approach to help in a modern-day problem. And they get paid in chicken feed. Since 1986, the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito & Vector Control District has had a surveillance system in place that uses chickens to monitor the early spread of viruses, including West Nile. According to the district, these chickens serve as sentinels or preemptive warning signals for the presence of virus activity. Among the viruses high on the list is West Nile, a mosquito-borne disease common in Africa, west Asia, the Middle East, and recently in North America. It was first detected in the United States in 1999. The district reported the virus was found in a chicken Jan. 1 in Monterey Park near Garvey Ranch Park and in a dead crow March 1 in El Monte. Kenn Fujioka, the district’s assistant manager, attributes the two cases to recent weather conditions. State public health officials said seven counties have reported West Nile cases this year but none has involved humans. The vector control recommends people check property for standing water, dump any stagnant water and contact the district if there are problems with mosquitoes. To report a dead bird or for more information, call the California West Nile Virus Hotline at (877) 968-2473 or visit www.westnile.ca.gov. [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2109 There are about 10 flocks located in various cities including Arcadia, Monterey Park and Glendora. The chickens, purchased from a farm in Riverside County, are blood tested every 10 days for antibodies to the most common mosquito-transmitted viruses. “By doing this, it gives us a chance to find the breeding source and eliminate the transmission to residents,” said Kelly Middleton, vector district spokeswoman. The viruses are harmless to the infected chickens. Michelle Mussuto, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health, said the chickens are purchased in April and tested until November, or up to one year, and are then sold back to the farm they lived at when the season is over.