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USDA confirms virulent Newcastle disease in commercial chicken flock in California

While outbreak in southern California began in May in backyard birds, this is the first case of virulent Newcastle disease in commercial poultry since 2003.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed Dec. 15 the presence of virulent Newcastle disease in a commercial chicken flock in Riverside County, Cal.

APHIS said this finding is part of an outbreak in southern California that began in May 2018 in backyard birds but this is the first case in commercial poultry since 2003.

APHIS did not disclose further information about the infected flock in its Dec. 15 announcement.

Virulent Newcastle disease is not a food safety concern. No human cases of Newcastle disease have ever occurred from eating poultry products, APHIS said, and 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 are limited to conjunctivitis and/or influenza-like symptoms. Infection is easily prevented by using standard personal protective equipment.

APHIS said it is working closely with the California Department of Food & Agriculture to respond to the finding, limiting the disease’s spread in commercial poultry and then eradicating it. Federal and state partners are conducting additional surveillance and testing in the area, and are working with nearby commercial farms to increase biosecurity to prevent additional disease spread, the agency explained.

APHIS emphasized that it is essential that all bird owners follow good biosecurity practices to help protect their birds from infectious diseases. These include simple steps like washing hands and scrubbing boots before and after entering a poultry area, and cleaning and disinfecting tires and equipment before moving them off the property.

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 through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593. Additional information on biosecurity for all poultry flocks can be found at www.aphis.usda.gov/animalhealth/defendtheflock.

Additional background

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, APHIS said. A death rate of almost 100% can occur in unvaccinated poultry flocks. Virulent Newcastle disease can infect and cause death even in vaccinated poultry.

APHIS said clinical signs of virulent Newcastle disease in poultry 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. Images of some of these signs are available here.

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