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Veterinary Public Health


Exotic Newcastle Disease Outbreak

Introduction

An outbreak of Exotic Newcastle Disease (END), one of the most infectious diseases of poultry in the world, was confirmed the 1st of October, 2002, in small flocks of backyard birds in Los Angeles County, including some used in illegal cockfights. Signs of the disease in birds include sneezing, coughing, gasping for air, drooping wings, muscular tremors, paralysis and sudden death. Laboratory testing confirmed the infection of exotic Newcastle disease. All exposed birds at the sites were destroyed. 

Investigations in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties to determine the source and distribution of the disease are ongoing. The disease was discovered when a bird owner reported a high mortality rate among his flock. People should keep their birds at home. All poultry shows have been closed. The disease could result in embargos on California poultry.

Past outbreaks of exotic Newcastle disease have severely affected the poultry industry. In 1971, a major outbreak occurred in Southern California that threatened the nation's entire poultry and egg supply. Almost 12 million birds were destroyed to control that outbreak. The eradication program cost taxpayers $56 million and dramatically increased poultry prices. The disease was first diagnosed in California in 1950 among pheasants imported from Hong Kong. 

The current epidemic of exotic Newcastle disease is probably the result of Southern California cockfighting operations which are illegal. Cockfighting was made illegal in California in 1905. More than three million poultry have been destroyed in California in attempting to control the outbreak. Cockfighting remains legal in Louisiana and parts of New Mexico.

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