A virulent threat to poultry in Riverside County prompted health officials Monday to recommend that people who keep backyard chickens and other birds take extra precautions.
According to county Agricultural Commissioner Ruben Arroyo, Newcastle Disease has surfaced in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, and there are growing concerns the strain could soon reach Riverside County.
“This disease is so virulent, it could significantly affect the poultry industry nationwide if it reaches commercial flocks,” Arroyo said. “To avoid the risk of spreading the disease, Riverside County inspectors will defer to federal inspectors at production facilities.”
Department of Animal Services Chief Veterinarian Allan Drusys said that, until the Newcastle threat is mitigated, chicken owners and anyone else with domesticated birds should keep them isolated and as safe as possible from exposure threats.
“In short, bird owners should not be buying new birds or trading their birds until this matter is fully resolved,” Drusys said.
Newcastle can spread throughout an entire flock kept in the same lot in one day, leaving all the birds infected with the pathogen.
The disease attacks the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems, according to health officials. Even birds vaccinated against Newcastle are at risk.
“Indicators of the disease include sudden death and increased death-loss in the flock, sneezing, gasping for air, nasal discharge, coughing, greenish diarrhea, reduced activity, tremors, drooping wings, twisting of the head and neck, circling, complete stiffness and swelling around the eyes and neck,” according to Arroyo.
He and Drusys recommended the following precautions for bird owners:
— limit foot and vehicle traffic onto property;
— disinfect shoes, clothing, hands, egg trays, crates and vehicle tires;
— do not visit poultry farms or fellow bird owners if possible, but if it happens, an owner should change clothes and thoroughly sanitize hands and shoes before returning to his or her property;
— scrub all outer wear before going into a poultry pen; and
— quarantine birds taken to shows for at least 30 days before re-introducing them to the flock.
Officials said human Newcastle infections are rare, and no cases of infection have been recorded as a result of consuming poultry products.
Some poultry workers have exhibited mild symptoms of Newcastle after coming into contact with infected birds. The most obvious symptom is red-blotched eyes. Wearing protective gear, including goggles and gloves, is the most effective means of preventing exposure.
More information about the disease is available at www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian-influenza-disease/birdbiosecurity/biosecurity_for_birds_home .
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