VIRULENT NEWCASTLE DISEASE UPDATE
If you own pet chickens or have a backyard flock, you may be familiar with the current quarantine and concern of virulent Newcastle disease (vND) in San Diego County. Southern California has been under quarantine for vND since May 2018. At this time, the disease was discovered in 5 counties in southern California, including San Bernardino County. Since then, in efforts to limit the spread of affected animals and further transmission outside California, the CDFA has had to cull a significant amount of backyard and commercial flocks. In combination with sick birds, vND has claimed the death of over 1.2 million birds. It is terrible to have to lose so many birds; not just emotionally, but this can be a significant economic strain on some families and businesses. While it’s frustrating to be limited in the function of your backyard flock and to maybe even have lost some of your chickens, it is easy to see that the threat from this disease is very real.
Virulent Newcastle Disease is a highly fatal and contagious disease of poultry and other bird species. Signs of illness that may be seen include fast onset respiratory signs- wheezing, sneezing, ocular or nasal discharge, etc. but it may also be seen as gastrointestinal signs, nervous system dysfunction or just general decreased energy or appetite. Unfortunately, transmission of this virus is easy and all too common. It can be passed through the air, secretions or feces. This has been the biggest factor compromising the resolution of the current epidemic occurring in San Diego county.
Despite current strict quarantines and restrictions, the movement of flocks or singular chickens, even seemingly healthy chickens, can spread the infection and has led to continued reports of the disease. Most recently, as of December 2019, the CDFA reports that 20 new cases in this month alone are currently being investigated with backyard flocks and retail pet store involvement. If you own chickens, it is so important that you restrict movement of any chickens off your premises, report any sick birds immediately and practice safe biosecurity techniques. As noted in the most recent CDFA update- “This highly contagious virus has been spread when people move exposed birds or equipment, or when people carry the virus to their own unfortunate flock on their hands and feet. It moves long distances as people illegally move birds or equipment. When introduced to a new area, it is amplified as the previously uninfected poultry succumb until the environmental virus load is so great, the outbreak spreads from yard to yard. Exposed poultry around a newly infected flock are the “virus amplifiers,” particularly just before they show signs of disease. Put simply, your birds can spread the disease before they show symptoms, so the only way to stop it is to not move birds – period – if you are in the CDFA Regional Quarantine Area.”
All Pets Animal Hospital has not been accepting poultry for sick or wellness exams since the start of this quarantine. We definitely miss our poultry patients, but we are doing our best to keep our other pet bird species safe from the disease that we see on a day to day basis. We are eager to see this epidemic end and see some of our feathery chicken friends again, but this can only be accomplished as a community by following guidelines and restrictions. So please, if you have a sick chicken, please contact the California Department of Food and Agriculture for ways to test your bird. They even have a Sick Bird Hotline, which can be reached at 866-922-2473. For current updates on vND and regional maps or the quarantine zone, you can also visit the CDFA website here.