Virulent Newcastle disease generally is not a human food safety threat, which is lucky because the poultry sickness is spreading like wildfire in California’s backyard flocks. Virulent Newcastle disease was formerly known as exotic Newcastle disease.

Humans are not likely to be exposed to Virulent Newcastle disease so long as poultry and eggs are thoroughly cooked. People who work with or otherwise come into contact with sick birds can become infected, but it is rare.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has since May 18, 2018, confirmed 440 premises in California as infected with Virulent Newcastle disease (vND), including 139 in San Bernardino County, 256 in Riverside County, 44 in Los Angeles County, one in Ventura County, and one in Alameda County.

The federal agency also found an infected premise in Utah County, UT, and another in Coconino County, AZ.

California’s Department of Food and Agriculture has announced new field biosecurity guidelines for state, county and city personnel who enter shell egg packing facilities, poultry harvest facilities, and poultry farms.

The state department says positive cases of vND continue to spread among California’s backyard and commercial poultry flocks.

“This disease is caused by a highly contagious virus that is lethal to poultry and normally foreign to the United States,” the department said in a statement.

While the disease has been detected in Nothern California, the heaviest areas for the poultry infections are clearly Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, all in southern California. Until vND is eradicated, officials say birds in all of California are at risk.

The California Department of Food & Agriculture wants public officials to suspend on-farm visits unless doing so would present an imminent public health threat. The department suggests replacing on-site inspections with remote record-keeping audits. It has also asked commercial poultry producers to minimize personnel entering poultry production areas. The request to minimize entry into poultry facilities will be re-evaluated by July 1, according to state officials.

A statement by California State Veterinarian Annette Jones says anyone with “birds at home” should not enter farms where eggs are hatched. Also, there must 72 hours between visits to poultry farms, egg production or egg processing facilities, duck hunting, or other exposures to wild migratory waterfowl. This includes visiting any locations with flocks, regardless of size, in backyards, schools, feed stores, swap meets, live bird markets, pet store veterinary clinics, zoos, bird hunt clubs or any other facility with live poultry or other birds.

Other biosecurity measures imposed by California include:

  • Vehicles must be washed before entering a farm or egg processing facility. This must be done in designated areas adhering to the facility’s biosecurity plan.
  • Good personal hygiene practices must be followed including showering and making sure clothes are washed before visiting another poultry facility.
  • People should never enter a poultry facility unless they have been trained to apply and remove biosecurity clothing without spreading disease.
  • Everyone should always follow the biosecurity measures of commercial poultry facilities, including registering in logbooks, answering questions, using disinfecting showers and washing vehicles.

Jones says people, equipment and vehicles can all spread the dangerous disease from one location to another.

The USDA has responded to California’s vND outbreak with $45 million in emergency funding. More than 1 million California birds have suffered from the infection in the past year. Consequently, thousands of chickens have been euthanized, including those with pet names from backyard flocks.

The fatal virus strikes the respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems, making death unavoidable. The fatality rate for an unvaccinated flock is 100 percent. Before death, there is sneezing, gasping for air, nasal discharge, coughing, greenish watery diarrhea, decreased mobility, tremors, drooping wings, twisting of the neck, body stiffnesses and swelling of eyes and neck.

Both USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and The California Department of Food and Agriculture view euthanasia as the only way to end the suffering of the birds, halt the spread of the virus, and stop the disease.

Backyard flocks in all states are vulnerable to diseases other than vND. In a report in recent days, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 52 illnesses in 21 states involved Salmonella spread by backyard flocks. Among those illnesses, 28 percent involve children younger than 5.

At least five of the Salmonella patients have required hospitalization, but there have not been any deaths in the outbreak. Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, fever, chills, and headaches are among the symptoms of Salmonella infection. The CDC reported that interviews with the ill people point to “contact with chicks and ducklings” as the source of the ongoing Salmonella outbreak.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)