What is exotic newcastle disease?

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Minnesota Board of Animal Health Reportable Disease of the Month Header

January 2017

Exotic Newcastle Disease

Brown chicken

What is it? A highly contagious viral disease impacting all birds; chickens are the most susceptible to the disease. There are few areas of the world that have not been affected by this disease. There are three very different forms of Newcastle Disease: mild (lentogenic), moderate (mesogenic) and very virulent (velogenic). Mild and moderate forms of Newcastle Disease may not cause birds to become sick, or can be controlled with different vaccination strategies. However, if combined with other disease agents or poor environmental conditions, it can become a significant disease problem. Exotic Newcastle Disease is the very virulent form, which is a great concern to poultry producers because of the potential to cause illness and death, sometimes without any warning. It can also lead to possible trade restrictions. Strains of this virus are endemic in Asia, Africa and some North and South American countries. The U.S. and Canada have import restrictions, testing, and depopulation standards to reduce the risk of those strains. There have been cases of the disease in Arizona, California, Nevada and Texas; each was eradicated.

How is it transmitted? When healthy birds come in direct contact with infected birds or their bodily fluids (feces or respiratory). Once in the environment of domestic poultry, the disease can move rapidly and infect entire flocks. Some wild birds, like cormorants, are highly susceptible and are known to carry and may spread the disease to domestic poultry if preventative measures are not in place.

What are the clinical signs? Respiratory issues, like coughing, gasping, sneezing and rales; nervousness, tremors or paralysis; a drop in egg production; and varying degrees of depression. These signs can vary between birds and the different forms of the virus. This is why it’s important to be vigilant for any changes in a flock and to investigate those changes immediately.

How is it diagnosed? Tracheal or cloacal swab samples or other tissues need to be collected from the birds and submitted to a certified laboratory for testing to identify and isolate the virus. Labs like the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory and the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory can test for the disease.

Is there a risk to people? It is zoonotic and people may become infected with Exotic Newcastle Disease. It can cause conjunctivitis in humans, often in people who work closely with poultry, and is considered a mild risk to overall health. Poultry products like meat and eggs are still safe to eat, and should always be cooked to safe temperatures.

How can it be prevented? Many different types of vaccines are available for poultry and help reduce the risk of Exotic Newcastle Disease infection. Biosecurity is also an excellent deterrent to this disease and many other diseases. Because this disease can travel in infected feces, barn boots, wild birds and other ways; biosecurity measures are important to keep it out of healthy flocks. Flock surveillance and quick identification of sick birds also reduces the risk of disease spread.