Poultry disease outbreak emphasizes need for biosecurity

Virulent Newcastle Disease (vND), which is highly contagious, has been found in numerous backyard poultry flocks in southern California, prompting reminders for all veterinarians to urge flock owners to be vigilant in preventing its spread.

At least 52 cases of vND have been confirmed in southern California since May 18, according to an alert issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Most cases have been in San Bernardino County, near the Los Angeles area, and all have involved backyard poultry.

Virulent Newcastle Disease is a viral disease that spreads quickly and can infect and cause death even in vaccinated poultry. The American Association of Avian Pathologists (AAAP) and APHIS advise that all bird owners should be aware of the basics of the disease, how to help prevent it, and what to do if they suspect their birds might have it. If your veterinary clients include backyard poultry keepers, APHIS provides an information sheet you can share to educate them about vND.

The disease is spread mainly through direct contact between healthy birds and the bodily discharges of infected birds. Virus-bearing material can be picked up on shoes and clothing and carried from an infected flock to a healthy one. APHIS and AAAP advise poultry owners to protect their birds by following these measures:

  • Restrict traffic onto and off your property.
  • Disinfect shoes, clothes, hands, egg trays or flats, crates, vehicles, and tires.
  • Avoid visits to other poultry farms or bird owners if possible.
  • Wash hands and scrub shoes/boots before and after entering a poultry area.
  • Isolate any birds returning from shows for 30 days before placing them with the rest of the flock.
  • Stay informed about the location and progression of the outbreak.
  • Practice self-quarantine. Stop the movement of birds between locations until the outbreak has been controlled.

Virulent Newcastle Disease has not been found in commercial poultry in the United States since 2003, and no human cases of Newcastle disease have ever occurred from eating poultry products, according to APHIS. The AVMA’s Backyard Chickens 101 resource provides a quick reference with information about other diseases that are more common in backyard poultry, as well as answers to other questions that companion animal veterinarians commonly receive when taking calls from urban flock owners.

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