Virulent Newcastle disease cases continue in California

The number of virulent Newcastle disease cases in California backyard flocks continues to grow, according to reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

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Photo by Andrea Gantz
Photo by Andrea Gantz

The number of virulent Newcastle disease cases in California backyard flocks continues to grow, according to reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

According to APHIS, there have now been 10 cases of virulent Newcastle disease, and nine of those were detected in San Bernardino County. The first case discovered in the U.S. in 2018 was reported on May 17 in a flock of backyard exhibition chickens in Los Angeles County.

The second case was in a flock of backyard chickens, doves and Psittacines in San Bernardino County. That case was confirmed on May 24.

All subsequent cases, with the most recent case being reported on June 1, were in backyard chicken flocks.

Samples from the flocks were tested at the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory System (CAHFS).  The APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, confirms all findings.  APHIS is working closely with the California Department of Food and Agriculture to respond to these findings and to conduct an epidemiological investigation.  Federal and State partners are also conducting additional surveillance and testing in the area.

No cases of virulent Newcastle disease, formerly known as exotic Newcastle disease have been confirmed in commercial poultry flocks in the United States since 2003.

Recommended precautions

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

It is essential that all bird owners follow good biosecurity practices to help protect their birds from infectious diseases, the agency emphasized.  These include simple steps like washing hands and scrubbing boots before and after entering a poultry area; 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.

In addition to practicing good biosecurity, all bird owners should report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state or federal officials, either through their state veterinarian or USDA’s toll-free number at +1.866.536.7593. Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found on the Biosecurity for Birds webpage.

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