Virulent Newcastle Disease (vND) has made its way around Southern California in recent months. A contagious and fatal viral disease that affects the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems of birds and poultry, doesn’t harm humans if ingested. It is, however, killing chickens and other poultry by the hundreds.
As of Oct. 4, 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has confirmed 451 premises in California as infected with vND, including 260 in Riverside County, 142 in San Bernardino County, 45 in Los Angeles County, one in Ventura County, one in Alameda County, and one in San Diego County. The USDA also confirmed one infected premises in Utah County, Utah and one infected premises in Coconino County, Arizona.
In Idyllwild and surrounding communities, many backyard chicken owners could potentially be impacted by this virus. The state of California could come through to euthanize their beloved chickens in an effort to halt the disease in its tracks. To date, thousands of chickens and other birds have been euthanized by the USDA throughout the state, but some people are outraged as their chickens are seemingly healthy and disease-free.
Many around the county have had their opinions on the state of California and its actions. “I feel this is not a proper protocol, but they get away with it,” said Riverside County resident Joshua Scally-Smith.
“Officials will come haunt you, harass you, and kill your birds if you do not comply with their rules! I am a part of a group on Facebook called ‘Save our birds’ and have a current lawsuit going to stop these violent killings.”
The newspaper reached out CDFA for comment on the allegations, but did not receive a response by press time.
Kerri Elaine, who started the ‘Save our birds’ Facebook page wrote, “ The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDS) came to my home on three different occasions, April 19, 2019, June 19, 2019 and Aug. 28, 2019. They slaughtered our healthy pets … I paid and had my birds tested with the CDFA lab. The results were zero detections of any diseases.”
Elaine, who has four children under the age of 18 said, “My kids hid in their closest or bathrooms in fear. The warrant states the CDFA can inspect and destroy any animal. So my kids are in fear they will be back to kill our dogs, horses and cat. My children and I are terrified and rarely leave the home. We suffer from anxiety, duress and depression.”
“Since May 2018, over 1.2 million birds have died or been euthanized because of this devastating virus,” wrote Dr. Annette Jones, D.V.M., director and state veterinarian in an Oct. 1 letter posted on the CDFA website. “Thanks to cooperation from Southern California residents in very difficult circumstances, and a tremendous commitment from emergency response teams, the joint CDFA and United States Department of Agriculture Virulent Newcastle Disease Project staff has found no new positive detections of the disease since early Sept. 2019. Teams are currently testing poultry in areas previously known to have infected birds in order to find any remaining pockets of disease. Now is a crucial time for adherence to biosecurity as we move closer to eradication. Until virulent Newcastle disease is eradicated, Southern California is at-risk.”
All this leads to the question, is there injustice with our system, or is the state of California taking the proper precautions in keeping the vND from spreading?
CDFA wrote the following in a July 2 update: “The VND project team will now survey and test in areas where disease has previously existed to make sure there are no remaining residual pockets of virus in poultry. However, it is important to recognize that the virus will remain in the environment for several more months, and that the risk of infection remains. If additional birds test positive, those birds and any exposed birds on adjacent properties will be euthanized.”
Some signs to watch for: sudden death and increased death loss in flock, sneezing, gasping for air, nasal discharge, coughing, decreased activity, tremors, drooping wings, twisting of head and neck, circling, complete stiffness, swelling around the eyes and neck, and greenish, watery diarrhea.
According to the USDA website, all bird owners should report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state and federal officials right away by calling 1-866-536-7593.

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