Virulent Newcastle disease infects commercial chicken flock

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WASHINGTON — The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed virulent Newcastle disease in a second commercial poultry flock in California.

The latest case is in a commercial layer flock in Riverside County. This finding is part of an outbreak in southern California that began in May 2018 in backyard exhibition birds.

Human exposure

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

Preventative measures

APHIS is working closely with the California Department of Food and Agriculture to respond to the finding, limit the disease’s spread in commercial poultry, and then eradicate 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.

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.

Reporting sick birds

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 on USDA’s website.

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. A death rate of almost 100 percent 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
  • Swelling around the eyes and neck

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