Valley News -

By Diane Sieker

Quarantine expands for Virulent Newcastle disease


Last updated 3/22/2019 at 3:44am

Chickens are most likely to be infected with Virulent Newcastle disease.

The Anza poultry and pet bird community are reeling from news that Riverside county has been included in the expanded quarantine area in an attempt by authorities to control the spread of the highly contagious Virulent Newcastle disease.

Virulent Newcastle disease is a nearly always fatal respiratory viral infection affecting birds, mainly poultry. But officials include pet birds such as parrots, finches, canaries and other indoor species in the quarantine.

Birds can appear healthy but can die within days of being infected with this incurable illness. The virus can be transmitted on clothes, shoes, equipment or vehicles or by other birds. It is spread by droppings and eye and beak secretions from sick fowl. The infection spreads quickly through populations kept in confined areas, such as commercially raised indoor flocks. The virus can be stopped by dehydration and sunlight. It can survive for several weeks in warm, humid conditions and indefinitely in frozen environments.

"There are no human health concerns provided that any meat or eggs are cooked properly. People who come in direct contact with the virus may develop conjunctivitis-like symptoms or run a mild fever," according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture website.

Quarantine boundaries were modified Feb. 27, to encompass all of Los Angeles County and large areas of San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The California state veterinarian Dr. Annette Jones altered Southern California's quarantine area in order to further restrict bird movement as authorities continue to try to eradicate the disease. This action requires that owners report sick birds and prohibits the transfer of birds in the quarantine area.

The modified quarantine extends from the northern and southern borders of western Riverside County to the Salton Sea – including the Coachella Valley – and as far east as Yucca Valley in San Bernardino County, with a northern boundary of state Route 58 at the Kern County line, according to the CDFA website.

The quarantine mandates that bird owners allow officials to perform diagnostic testing, that they isolate poultry from other species, stop any exhibitions such as shows and fairs, cease shipping and receiving birds and to enhance their biosecurity on farms and commercial installations such as egg ranches.

"By modifying the quarantine area in Southern California, we are building upon an ongoing effort to eradicate Virulent Newcastle disease," Jones said. "The primary way that Virulent Newcastle disease spreads is by people moving sick birds. Extending the prohibition of bird movement across a larger area is the next logical step in being able to stop the spread of the virus and to eradicate the disease." 

The only way to stop the virus progression is to destroy all infected birds. This measure even includes potentially healthy birds within heavily saturated areas.

The state veterinarian has ordered mandatory euthanasia of birds in some neighborhoods in Compton and Whittier, Eastvale, Menifee, Mira Loma, Jurupa Valley, Norco, Nuevo, Perris, Riverside, Fontana, Hesperia, Highland, Muscoy and Ontario.

Virulent Newcastle disease is not a new crisis. It has infected California's poultry population in the past, causing millions in damages and grief for many bird owners and businesses.

According to the Center for Infectious Disease Research, a catastrophic outbreak of Exotic Newcastle disease in 1971 resulted in the destruction of nearly 12 million birds in 1,341 flocks. That outbreak was finally eradicated in 1974 at a total cost of $56 million.

Even birds and flocks that previously tested negative, according to the CDFA website, but now fall within a designated mandatory euthanasia area, must be euthanized. USDA and CDFA staff will contact affected bird owners with orders specific to their property. Owners must allow the destruction of their birds, as there is mandatory compliance with the decisions of the USDA and CDFA officials.

Diane Sieker photo

Even geese and other waterfowl can become stricken with Virulent Newcastle disease.

"The best way to protect your poultry is to prevent exposing your birds to the virus," John Ventuleth, who was active in the 1971-1974 outbreak, said. "Do this by not introducing your birds to others – no shows or contests with birds – or bringing potentially contaminated material home, such as feed from feed stores with poultry or visiting other poultry fanciers. If you do visit, wash all potentially contaminated things well. UC Davis suggests, that if you attend any gatherings where poultry are present, spray any items that you bring back with Lysol, completely change your clothes and footwear and take your car through a car wash."

Since May 2018, the CDFA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been working together to eradicate Virulent Newcastle disease in Southern California. This effort may result in the estimated euthanasia of more than 1 million birds in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

Birds from four poultry producers in Riverside County and two in San Bernardino County have been infected, and all birds in those facilities have been or will be destroyed.

For more information about movement restrictions, biosecurity and testing requirements, call the Sick Bird Hotline (866) 922-2473 or email [email protected]

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at [email protected]


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