A year ago the poultry sickness that is known as virulent Newcastle disease (vND) was spreading like wildfire in California’s backyard flocks and state and federal agricultural officials were deploying tactics to limit the spread.

This month, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is transitioning efforts in Southern California from response to prevention because no new vND cases have been confirmed in Southern California since Feb. 1 this year. During the response, there was extensive testing.

Virulent Newcastle disease generally is not a human food safety threat and was originally 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 backyard and commercial flocks are both at risk for VND, and during this last round of outbreaks, California enacted new field biosecurity guidelines for state, county, and city personnel who enter shell egg packing facilities, poultry harvest facilities, and poultry farms.

“APHIS and CDFA employees have worked tirelessly over the past two years toward this goal,” said Dr. Burke Healey, USDA Chief Veterinarian. “While this is a big accomplishment, we need to continue the work to educate bird owners and arm them with the knowledge and tools to prevent this from happening again.”

To guard against the risk of future outbreaks, the prevention plan led by the California Avian Health Education Network (CAHEN) will focus on disease monitoring and continual support for biosecurity training.  We know that biosecurity practices work – they were essential in minimizing vND spread to commercial farms in the area and we’ve used them successfully in other poultry disease outbreaks. But these practices must be followed by anyone who owns or handles poultry. Southern California’s many backyards and commercial poultry owners alike must remain vigilant in protecting the health of their birds by ensuring biosecurity protocols are being followed every day, every time. Education, training, and outreach will ensure backyard bird owners and both feed and pet stores have the information they need to keep birds healthy.

All backyard poultry owners and commercial operations also need to routinely check birds for signs of illness, and report sick birds through CAHEN at 866-922-2473. This will allow animal health officials to investigate and quickly respond if needed. APHIS will continue to provide educational materials and staffing support to CAHEN and CDFA.

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