Virulent Newcastle disease spreads primarily by moving birds that appear healthy but have already been infected, which appears to be the case with the recent discovery in Utah. After multiple instances of the disease being identified in California, officials have confirmed that the disease has traveled across state lines to a small flock of backyard exhibition chickens in Utah County, Utah.
“Their bird might not look sick, but it could already be carrying the virus and it could be days to a week or more later when they start to show symptoms, but unfortunately when they moved the bird they just spread the virus,” said California State Veterinarian Dr. Annette Jones. “The state and federal government both have concern because it is such a lethal virus and it is so contagious, that if we don’t all work together it’s very difficult to contain.”
The outbreak which originated in backyard chickens in May 2018 has now resulted in nearly 500,000 backyard and commercial birds being euthanized after it was discovered in two commercial operations earlier in January. “In all of those cases the weather – damp, moist, wet rains – contributes to the spread as well as just the amount of infected backyard birds in their immediate vicinity,” said Dr. Jones. “We feared that if we couldn’t contain it in backyards it would spread into commercial poultry and that’s exactly what happened.”
As part of the effort to keep the disease from spreading any further, officials are asking for cooperation from the industry. “We’re encouraging bird show managers to look at their show in particular and if there is risk that birds from the southern California area could be there, especially chickens, that a wise move would be to postpone the show,” said Dr. Jones.
The disease does not pose a risk to public health, but as virulent Newcastle disease spreads it poses a serious threat to the poultry industry. Dr. Jones noted that the last outbreak in 2002-2003 the response cost was about $165 million, and “it had significant trade impacts as well, in the multi-hundreds of millions of dollars…so it can be a very significant disease.”
More information about the outbreak and the efforts to contain the disease are available through the California Department of Food and Agriculture website.
Listen to the interview below.