With the word ‘chicken’ being front and center of the very name, it would be easy to assume that your backyard feathered friend actually had something to do with this itchy disease. Fortunately, this is not the case.
Chickenpox, or more accurately known as varicella, is a human disease that does not affect chickens. This sickness (that I remember very well from my childhood) causes small itchy blisters to break out all over one’s body.
It should be noted, though, that there is an ailment for chickens that produces symptoms very similar to Chickenpox. Fowlpox, is a disease that causes lesions on the fleshy parts of the bird’s body (typically the comb and wattle).
But Chickenpox and Fowlpox are distinctly different.
Chickenpox is an airborne disease caused by the Varicella Zoster Virus while Fowlpox has completely different origins and can actually be caused by two different strains of virus. And with two different origins for Fowlpox, there are two different forms of transmission; the first being an insect bite and the second by inhalation.
Can Animals Get Chicken Pox?
People with backyard flocks tend to spend a fair amount of time in close proximity to their animals. For this reason, it is completely understandable to wonder if your ailment can infect your birds.
As of the date of this writing, Chickenpox is thought to be primarily resigned to human hosts – meaning that you will not cause your animal companions any grief if you are unfortunate enough to be sick with it.
There have been cases where primates have caught the disease. But this is not a regular occurrence.
### Important Note ###
Just because your flock can’t catch your cold, this doesn’t mean that you should ‘hang out’ with them if you’re sick.
If you are ill, then your immune system will most likely be weak and there are many things that you can catch from your chickens – with the worst probably being Salmonella.
Always wash your hands after handling your birds or coming into contact with a surface that they have been in contact with (feeder, waterer, nesting box, eggs, ect.). Also, if you have a respiratory issue, then it would be wise to wear a mask when dealing with your flock, as a fluttering chicken can stir up infected dust that is easily inhaled.
Why Is Chicken Pox Called Chicken Pox?
Like so many things that we use and understand today, the origins of the name Chicken Pox is something of mystery that may never be solved.
Starting as early as 1658, Chickenpox was causing scratching and discomfort for anyone unfortunate enough to catch it – usually small children. A few of the theories as to how this ailment got its name are:
- Icchen – An old English word that means to itch, is very close in sound to the word chicken.
- Cowardly – Chickens have never been synonymous with courage. And while the first impression of someone living in the 1600’s would be that these small itchy blisters were indicative of small pox (a horrible and deadly disease), chicken pox would generally resolve itself within a matter of weeks. In other words, it was a ‘cowardly’ version of small pox as it ‘fled’ from the human host.
- Spots – It is suggested that the small red dots of Chickenpox are similar in appearance to what you might expect if a chicken pecked you. Having been pecked by more than a few grumpy birds, I seriously doubt this theory. And seeing that chickens have been domesticated for 5,000 years, I find it hard to believe that people from the 1600’s would make this kind of an association.