Newcastle disease continues to be a threat to backyard chickens in Southern California

Keeping chickens’ environment clean helps prevent the spread of Newcastle disease.

At a recent vector meeting on May 29, ad hoc members discussed the Newcastle disease that has been infecting chickens in Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire. Newcastle disease is a viral fever that is highly contagious. The virus may also be present in eggs laid by chickens that have the infection.

“It only takes one bird with Newcastle to infect the entire area,” said Yucaipa Director of Development Paul Toomey.

One theory is that the disease was brought into the United States via Mexico from infected illegal cockfighting birds, though this hasn’t been determined with certainty.

Symptoms of the deadly disease include respiratory problems such as coughing and sneezing, paralyzed wings and legs, and digestive issues such as diarrhea. The virus spreads through direct contact with bodily discharges from infected birds, particularly droppings and secretions from the nose, mouth, and eyes. According to World Organization for Animal Health, Newcastle disease may also infect humans, yet it manifests differently as a mild form of conjunctivitis, or pink eye.

Chickens are especially susceptible, though other birds such as pigeons and turkeys can also catch the disease. There is no treatment. Last year, 60,000 infected chickens in Southern California were required to be euthanized.

Thankfully, no new cases of the disease have been discovered in the past couple of weeks. Thorough and consistent cleaning of the chickens’ environment could help prevent the disease from spreading. Any birds showing symptoms should immediately be quarantined as well.

Yucaipa Mayor Pro Tem David Avila mentioned that “one of the distinctive aspects of Yucaipa is being able to have animals,” yet owners must be careful to avoid overcrowded conditions for their birds and keep their living area clean to prevent disease and outbreaks of flies. According to Avila, the limit of backyard birds a resident is able to keep depends on the size of the property, but the maximum number is 24 birds.

Until the Newcastle disease outbreak is officially over, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends avoiding visits to other poultry owners’ premises.

Owners who believe their birds might be infected should call the California Department of Food and Agriculture sick bird hotline at 866-922-2473.

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