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New wave of chicken-killing Newcastle disease hits Southern California

It’s been a lousy holiday season for Southern California’s chickens.

In recent weeks, new cases of the poultry-killing Newcastle disease hit San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties, reviving an epidemic that state officials believed was nearing its end as recently as last summer. Since May 2018, when the disease was identified in the region, 1.2 million birds in the area have been euthanized.

Careless bird owners who haven’t followed protocol for the highly contagious virus — including scofflaws who’ve ignored quarantines — are to blame, according to State Veterinarian Annette Jones.

“Over the past month, virulent Newcastle disease cases have increased because people have violated the … regional quarantine by moving infected birds or contaminated equipment,” Jones says in a statement on the California Department of Food and Agriculture site. “Put simply, your birds can spread the disease before they show symptoms, so the only way to stop it is to not move birds — period — if you are in the CDFA regional quarantine area. … Stopping the spread will take the combined effort of all bird owners.”

All of Los Angeles County and most of San Bernardino and Riverside counties are under quarantine. Additionally, inspectors, auditors and service providers in those three counties as well as Orange, Ventura and San Diego counties have been ordered by Jones to suspend most visits to poultry areas until at least March 1.

Properly cooked poultry and eggs do not pose a health threat to people, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“In very rare instances, people working directly with sick birds can become infected,” according to the USDA website. “Symptoms are usually very mild and limited to conjunctivitis and/or influenza-like symptoms.”

Disease ebbs, flows

Of the 1.2 million birds euthanized in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties since May 2018, about 1.1 million were connected to commercial and industrial operations. Most of the remaining birds killed were pets or show birds. The majority of the birds killed have been chickens.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 470 premises in California have been infected with Newcastle disease as of Dec. 27. Of those, 262 are in Riverside County, 158 in San Bernardino County, 46 in Los Angeles County and one each in Ventura, Alameda and San Diego counties. The number of birds euthanized in December was not immediately available.

The 14 locations where the disease was identified in December consisted of 11 in San Bernardino County, two in Riverside County and one in Los Angeles County.

The epidemic was waning through the summer, with the disease identified at just four locations from June through September — and none in October. The numbers began creeping up in November, with the infections found at five locations in San Bernardino County.

Two of the areas with infected birds in November and December were pet and feed stores, with the rest identified as backyard show chickens.

Southern California’s previous Newcastle epidemic was in 2002-2003, when 3.2 million birds were euthanized.

Source: Orange County Register

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