Exotic Newcastle Disease threatens county’s $16 million poultry industry

San Benito County is joining forces with state and federal
officials to prevent the spread of Exotic Newcastle Disease to this
area, which could wipe out the county’s $16 million poultry
San Benito County is joining forces with state and federal officials to prevent the spread of Exotic Newcastle Disease to this area, which could wipe out the county’s $16 million poultry industry.

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a request from County Agricultural Commissioner Mark Tognazzini to participate in a federally funded survey intended to detect and eradicate any trace of the disease in the county.

Exotic Newcastle Disease is a highly contagious and deadly virus to nearly all types of birds. This strain of Newcastle Disease commonly appears in Central and South America, the Middle East and most of Europe, Africa and Asia.

“It’s quick and very contagious,” Tognazzini said. “Unchecked, it has the potential of wiping out our poultry industry.”

After an incubation period of two to 15 days, Newcastle causes a high degree of sickness followed by death in chickens and other birds.

Tognazzini said there have been no reported cases of Exotic Newcastle in San Benito County recently.

Supervisors said they understand the possible ramifications for the county so they decided to act quickly and approve the plan.

“It’s a question about being proactive and preventing this,” Supervisor Reb Monaco said.

The study would begin with survey teams focusing, at first, in the areas around poultry production facilities. There are about five such facilities in the county, Tognazzini said.

“They would go from door-to-door in a half-mile radius around the production facility,” Tognazzini said.

If any of the birds, domesticated, wild or house pets are believed to have the disease, their blood sample will be taken and tested. If they are found to have the disease, they are killed to prevent spread of the disease to this county.

The United States Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture said this strain of Newcastle does not have any effect on human beings.

“You can still eat the meat, and the eggs from chickens or turkey’s,” Tognazzini said.

He said any damage that could be done would be to the commercial industry in the county – which is primary in turkey farms. If enough cases of Exotic Newcastle Disease were found locally, it could force federal and state officials to invoke a quarantine prohibiting any fowls, commercial or otherwise from being transported or exported out of the county.

Tognazzini said concern over the disease may have other consequences.

“I’ve contacted officials at the fairgrounds and suggested that they cancel any competition with fowls,” Tognazzini said.

If fairgrounds officials decide to cancel the bird exhibitions, they will not be alone, because the Monterey County Fair Board has already announced that it will not have any live chickens exhibited because of concern over possible Newcastle contamination.

Exotic Newcastle Disease is only fatal to 267 species of bird. Some tropical birds, such as the parrot, are immune. Some birds show few clinical signs and are carriers. Pet birds may have the virus for more than a year without showing symptoms of infection.

Tognazzini said there are several types of Newcastle Disease, but the one they are screening for is part of an outbreak that occurred in the Los Angeles and Ventura County areas in October.

He said it was diagnosed in several backyard poultry flocks in Southern California.

Currently, the disease appears to be restricted to backyard and commercial poultry in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties, Tognazzini said.

“(About) 1.8 million birds in Southern California have been depopulated,” he said. “There are more than 1,200 people that are working to eradicate this disease.”

According to the CDFA, Exotic Newcastle Disease was first diagnosed in the United States in California in 195O among chukars (a breed of partridge) and pheasants imported from Hong Kong. The infection, which spread to five poultry farms in Contra Costa County, was eliminated through the destruction of the infected chickens.

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