Exotic/Virulent Newcastle Disease Closes California Shows

Birds are Euthanized to Stop the Spread

Exotic/Virulent Newcastle Disease Closes California Shows

Virulent, formerly called Exotic, Newcastle Disease infected some Southern California flocks in the past year. Humans aren’t affected, and meat and eggs are safe, but it can kill any birds that catch it. The outbreak has been confined to three counties. Poultry shows in those counties, and around California, were canceled.  

Three SoCal counties 

The outbreak started in Los Angeles County in May 2018. It soon spread across San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. A single case was found in Ventura County, another in Alameda County, one in Utah County, Utah and one in Arizona. Those may have been birds that were transported from the three quarantined counties.  

USDA clamped down with a quarantine on the three affected counties. No birds are allowed to move in or out. The ban will be in effect at least until July. USDA and California Department of Food and Agriculture experts will re-evaluate the situation then. 

“The APA is monitoring the situation,” said John Monaco, president of the American Poultry Association. “We are more than happy to work with health departments.” 

CDFA and USDA are working together to stop the virus from infecting any more flocks. In April USDA authorized $45 million to support more than 40 additional workers to focus on vND.  

Cockfighting is illegal, but cockfighters are often accused of involvement in disease spread. To encourage compliance, the state and federal agencies are not working with law enforcement.  

“Our only focus is the virus,” Ricardo Gaitan, public information officer for vND at CDFA, said. “Regardless of what you do with your animals, we want to know where the virus is and get rid of it.” 

How It Is Transmitted 

As an RNA virus, vND is constantly evolving. APHIS reported that it probably started from a single sick bird introduced in LA County, then passing the infection on to the other sites. 

Anything that comes in contact with a sick bird can pick up the virus and pass it on. The virus can live as long as 120 days. Because the virus can survive so long outside a chicken, and be transmitted so readily, any time people get together socially, it can silently move to another carrier.  

By April 2019, 409 cases had been confirmed. Over 100,000 backyard birds and more than 1.2 million commercial birds had been euthanized because of exposure to vND.  

Shows Canceled

Poultry shows in other counties were canceled, to be cautious. At least 16 shows, from Orange County in the south to Humboldt County in the north, were canceled.

“Most shows did the right thing, and decided not to hold shows,” said Mr. Monaco. “You don’t want to be the one that spread the disease.”

On April 15, California State Fair canceled all of its poultry shows for 2019.

“Although this decision is disappointing for our exhibitors and fair guests, it is in the best interest of the community and the California poultry industry,” Jay Carlson Agriculture Programs Manager, wrote in a letter to poultry exhibitors. “Furthermore, the California State Fair does attract exhibitors from all parts of California and we do not want to encourage the transportation of birds especially in or from areas already under quarantine and restricted bird movement.”

The California Mid-State Fair Livestock Office in Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, has also canceled its July 17th poultry show.

Backyard and Exhibition Flocks

The USDA’s Epidemiologic Analyses of Virulent Newcastle Disease in Backyard Birds in California, August 2018, Report finds flocks that have more than 50% roosters are more likely to be infected. Any bird can be infected.  

Dr. Gaitan advises against allowing non-poultry pet bird such as parrots, finches, and macaws to mingle with poultry. Those other species can be infected and transmit the disease. Pet birds of non-poultry species are not subject to being euthanized, he said.  

Commercial Flocks 

VND is a threat to commercial poultry flocks, even though they are vaccinated. The effectiveness of vaccination may be uneven, for a variety of reasons. Chickens that are vaccinated but get sick anyway may survive but shed virus for as long as six months. 

“A domestic introduction could cause devastating effects on the poultry industry and have a significant impact on trade.  A large vND outbreak would have long-term economic consequences and an extensive recovery period,” APHIS says on its web page.

Trading in poultry with other countries could be suspended.  

Virulent Newcastle disease is not a food safety concern. People do not get sick from eating poultry products.  Humans rarely get sick from Newcastle Disease. Only those working directly with infected birds are subject to it, which may cause mild conjunctivitis. 

Map credit: CDFA/USDA

Ending the Outbreak 

The virus is usually dead after 120 days, provided it hasn’t found another chicken to infect. After infection reports declined over the winter, reports increased in April. Public support is crucial in ending the outbreak. 

“Ninety percent of succeeding is public cooperation,” Dr. Gaitan said. “It’s a community effort. The more people get involved, the more accountability we are going to have. Once we get rid of the disease, we can go back to our normal life.”

“As long as people don’t start shipping birds, I think we will be fine,” Monaco said.  

VND Symptoms:

-Sudden death and increased death loss in the flock; 
-Sneezing, gasping for air, nasal discharge, coughing; 
-Greenish, watery diarrhea; 
-Decreased activity, tremors, drooping wings, twisting of head and neck, circling, complete stiffness; and 
-Swelling around the eyes and neck. 
 -Sometimes, the first sign is a chicken that drops dead. 

Keeping Your Flock Safe 

VND is transmitted by direct contact between birds, by coughing and sneezing, and through droppings. Anything that has been around an infected chicken can pick up the virus — cages, tools, manure, eggs — which can live long enough to be passed to another chicken. It can be on clothes or shoes, on the outside of the feed bag, even on the car’s tires. 

How long it remains dangerous depends on factors such as temperature, humidity and whether it was exposed to UV in sunlight. 

Dr. Gaitan advises: 

  • The most important thing is not to bring new birds into your flock. 
  • Observe general biosecurity practices. 
  • Wash your hands and scrub your boots before and after entering an area with birds. Or keep designated shoes and clothes for use in the chicken coop. Use hand sanitizer and a disinfectant foot bath. 
  • Avoid sharing equipment. Clean and disinfect equipment before moving it between properties. Take your truck to a car wash after visiting another poultry keeper.    
  • Quarantine birds returning from shows for 30 days. The incubation period for vND is as long as 21 days. 
  • Control pests. Insects can track the virus in on their feet. Rats and squirrels can pick up the virus and bring it in. They may feather their nests with infected feathers. 

Worst case, if you think your birds are sick, call the Sick Bird Hotline at 866-922-2473.

Originally published in the June/July 2019 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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