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Additional cases of virulent Newcastle disease found in backyard poultry in California

TAGS: Poultry
JackF/iStock/Thinkstock woman feeding backyard chickens
Findings increase need for backyard owners to be vigilant about biosecurity.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is reminding bird owners about the need for biosecurity after confirmation of a case of virulent Newcastle disease and the identification of one additional presumptive positive case in backyard birds in San Bernardino County, Cal.

Virulent Newcastle disease has not been found in commercial poultry in the U.S. since 2003.

Virulent Newcastle disease is a contagious and fatal viral disease affecting the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems of birds and poultry. The disease is so virulent that many birds and poultry die without showing any clinical signs. A death rate of almost 100% can occur in unvaccinated poultry flocks. Virulent Newcastle disease can infect and cause death even in vaccinated poultry.

Clinical signs of virulent Newcastle disease include: 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 the head and neck, circling, complete stiffness and swelling around the eyes and neck.

No human cases of Newcastle disease have ever occurred from eating poultry products, APHIS said, noting that properly cooked poultry products are safe to eat. In very rare instances, people working directly with sick birds can become infected. Symptoms are usually very mild and limited to conjunctivitis. Infection is easily prevented by using standard personal protective equipment.

Any additional cases will be reported on the APHIS website as they are confirmed.

Samples from the flocks, which experienced increased mortality, were tested at the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory System. The APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, confirms all findings.

APHIS is working closely with the California Department of Food & Agriculture to respond to these findings and is investigating any potential links between these cases and the case recently identified in Los Angeles County. Federal and state partners are also conducting additional surveillance and testing in the area.

Biosecurity basics

APHIS is reminding anyone who owns, shows or works with birds or poultry to increase their biosecurity practices immediately, especially in the southern California area.

Biosecurity includes simple steps like washing hands and scrubbing boots before and after entering an area with birds; cleaning and disinfecting tires and equipment before moving them off the property, and isolating any birds returning from shows for 30 days before placing them with the rest of the flock. Bird owners should also limit visitor contact with their birds and not let anyone else who owns birds come in contact with their flock to avoid potentially sharing/spreading germs between flocks.

In addition to practicing good biosecurity, all bird owners should report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state/federal officials, either through their state veterinarian or USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593.

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