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Keep birds safe from virulent Newcastle Disease

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As of 4/18/2019, our bird barn remains closed to the public. The state will consider this outbreak over when 120 days have passed without disease. The most recent case we are aware of occurred in southern California on 4/14/2019.

Since last year, we have closely monitored the Newcastle disease outbreak in southern California. There have been more than 400 documented cases of virulent Newcastle Disease (vND) in LA County and surrounding areas. More than one million birds have been euthanized or killed because of the outbreak. In March of this year, a backyard rooster in Alameda County tested positive for vND and was euthanized. The California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA) is currently investigating the source of this bird.

Large swaths of southern California, including all of LA County, are under mandatory quarantine, with some areas under mandatory euthanasia. Birds are not to be moved.

While Grass Valley is a distance from Alameda County, it is close enough to concern Animal Place. When we learned of this incident, we immediately implemented strict biosecurity protocols and consulted with experts at the CDFA.

We would like to provide some information on vND and biosecurity protocols for both backyard flock guardians, microsanctuaries, and sanctuaries. We want to make clear that this is a prime example of speciesism. There would be such an enormous public outcry if the animals impacted were dogs and the state was trying to kill everyone’s companion pups. Other solutions would likely be attempted. At the same time, this is a novel disease that most of the birds in the US have never been exposed to, that kills most of the birds it infects, and leaves those who survive carriers capable of infecting other birds. It is a disease that has to be taken seriously so that we can prevent the mandatory euthanasia from being implemented any further north.

What is vND? It is a highly contagious virus transmitted to birds from other birds (feces, fomites like dander, aerosol), humans (on clothing, eg), and equipment that causes severe respiratory distress, neurological symptoms, and death.

Which birds can get vND? The following species are highly susceptible to vND: Chickens, pigeons, parrots (as carriers, often asymptomatic). Wild species, like gulls and cormorants, are also highly susceptible. Less susceptible are turkeys. It is unknown how susceptible guinea fowl and peafowl are to this disease. In the current outbreak, 84% of birds impacted are chickens, and 15 other species including turkeys, peacocks, pigeons.

What are the symptoms? Respiratory: ocular/nasal discharge, wheezing, coughing, swelling around eyes. Neurological: head/neck tilting, walking aimlessly in circles, paralysis. Many of these symptoms are similar to more common diseases. Should your birds develop any of these symptoms, we do not recommend taking the bird offsite. Consult with your poultry veterinarian over the phone or call the CDFA Sick Bird Hotline at 866-922-2473

Can birds die? Yes. vND is a novel disease to the United States and is likely the result of illegal imports of parrots from South and Central America. Birds here have never been exposed to this virulent strain. Mortality in unvaccinated birds is generally 90-100%. Mortality in vaccinated birds is generally 50-90%.

If I vaccinate, will my birds still be euthanized? If your flock falls inside a mandatory euthanasia zone, yes, all of your birds will be killed. Unfortunately, due to industry pressure, and the severe nature of this disease, the state is not making any exceptions. Which is why implementing biosecurity protocols immediately is imperative.

BIOSECURITY

Close your flocks: No taking in birds and no moving your birds off property. This should be non-negotiable. Your birds very lives depend on the eradication of this outbreak. If possible, consolidate your individuals to one location. Aside from disinfecting before and after leaving your bird areas, this is the MOST important step you can take. 

Sanctuaries: We highly recommend stopping ANY intake of birds, particularly if you are close to the quarantine zones in southern California. If you are further north, and feel compelled to intake rescue birds, keep them strictly isolated – no aerosol, physical access to other birds for a minimum of 30 days and get them tested for vND. Animal Place has ceased the intake of any birds, until the CDFA tells us it is safe. We are not intaking any animals exposed to chickens, pigeons, or parrots from southern California. 

Boot baths and clothing: Use Virkon or bleach foot baths every time you enter and exit your bird areas. Remove organic matter (e.g. fecal matter) with a scrub brush before entering the foot-bath. Change the foot-bath daily. Ideally, wear one set of clothing and one pair of boots in bird areas and nowhere else.

Sanctuaries: We recommend using disposable Tyvek suits, “chicken” specific boots, foot baths, and hand sanitizer upon entry and sanitizer, boot baths upon exit of all bird areas. 

Exclude wild birds if possible: This is more feasible with smaller flocks and smaller enclosures. If you can put up screening over your outdoor enclosure to exclude wild birds and, to the best of your ability, rodents, that is ideal.

Limit who has access to your birds: Do not allow people with other birds access to your birds unless you require them to wear new shoes or clothing and sanitize their shoes and hands.

Sanctuaries: Animal Place has completely closed public access to our bird barn. This includes volunteers. We are in a good position to close the road leading to the bird barn off to the public. If you cannot do that, we recommend erecting cones, temporary fencing, and signage around any of your bird enclosures and keep the public away from your precious rescues. This is likely the best way to keep your birds safe.

Spray tires: If you are large enough for feed deliveries or you are going to feedstores, spray the tires of delivery trucks and your vehicle’s tires on property with Virkon. Do the same for your shoes and keep your shoes and clothing exposed to feedstores away from your birds (change your clothes and sanitize before interacting with your birds). You can also use Lysol wipes on your shoes after exiting any location with birds and before putting your shoes in your vehicle.

Keep feed in rodent proof bins: Do not allow feed bags to enter the chicken areas (consider those bags “dirty” as they could have been exposed to rodents, fecal matter, and other birds). Place all feed into rodent proof containers instead (those can be placed near your coop or barn).

Please do your part to keep your birds safe and sound.

2 Responses so far.

  1. V says:

    Are rodents immune to this disease? Is that why it can be spread by them stepping in an infected birds extriments or vomit?

    • Animal Place says:

      The disease is avian specific (with possible zoonosis to humans in the form of mild conjunctivitis). Rodents can carry the disease on their feet if they go through infected feces, though.