Texas poultry produces are keeping a close watch on the spread of Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) as it continues to devastate parts of California and Nevada. “As one of the top poultry producing states, Texas adheres to strict biosecurity measures as the threat of END approaches our boarders,” says Dr. John El-Attrache, Assistant Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine who has a joint appointment in the Poultry Science Department.
Exotic Newcastle Disease is an extremely contagious and fatal foreign animal disease that affects most bird species. Although this disease is not new to the United States, a similar outbreak occurred in southern California in 1971, it is suspected to have entered the United States through the illegal smuggle of infected fighting cocks and Amazon parrots near the Mexican border.
This disease is often spread from an infected bird to an uninfected bird in the same flock through bodily discharges including: feces and secretions from the nose, mouth and eyes. Frequently, these bodily discharges attach to shoes, clothing and equipment causing humans and vehicles to be the main source responsible for spreading END from flock to flock and across state borders.
Signs of END include sudden death, sneezing, gasping for air, nasal discharge, coughing, muscular tremors, drooping wings, swelling of the tissues around the eyes and in the neck, and greenish, watery diarrhea. Eradication is the primary goal when a flock is diagnosed with END even though an infected bird can be saved; it becomes a carrier of the disease and could potentially infect more birds.
In the case affecting the poultry industry, chickens are separated into two categories: layers and broilers. Layer chickens are raised to produce eggs while broilers are grown for consumption. END is particularly devastating to the layer industry because these chickens have a longer lifespan and therefore, a larger window of opportunity to become infected. Layer chickens usually live in houses that are both warm and humid with up to 20,000 other birds, which may cause the disease to live for several weeks.
“The Texas poultry industry could experience a similar impact that END is having on southern California if the proper preventative measures are not taken,” El-Attrache said.
The Texas poultry industry is No. 6 in the nation in both layers and broilers while California is No. 8 in broilers and No. 3 in the layer industry. In California, approximately 2.2 million birds have been destroyed to stop the spread of this disease that has affected 14 commercial operations and 2,000 noncommercial flocks. The hefty price of fighting this disease is estimated at $35 million.
“Most chickens have been vaccinated against END with water or a spray vaccine and even though this method is the most effective it will sometimes produce an uneven distribution of vaccine, leaving some birds more susceptible to END despite regular boosters,” El-Attrache said.
It is important to contact the Texas Department of Health or the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at their facilities in College Station, Center and Gonzales before making any decisions to eradicate a poultry farm or bird species.
“END is a respiratory disease with symptoms that are often similar to that of other non-lethal respiratory diseases and must be identified in a diagnostic laboratory setting,” El-Attrache said.
Angela G. Clendenin
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