Virulent Newcastle disease found in Arizona chicken flock for first time

Swelling and purple discoloration of the chicken’s comb, wattles and eyelids are symptoms of virulent Newcastle disease. (Photo courtesy USDA-APHIS)

PHOENIX – Virulent Newcastle disease has been found in an Arizona chicken flock for the first time since the outbreak began last year in California.

It’s been found in Arizona near Flagstaff in a backyard flock of eight birds, and tests show the strain is part of the Southern California outbreak.

Arizona state veterinarian Peter Mundschenk said the Department of Agriculture is working to find the source and keep it contained.

“It’s pretty much been in backyard birds, but they’ve had a couple spillovers into the commercial flocks in the areas,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to prevent by having the surveillance zone so we don’t get the spread of the disease like California’s had.”

Mundschenk said they will keep looking in a 1 kilometer area around where the disease was found to locate the source. One source could be a chicken keeper – someone trying to protect birds from quarantine in California – who brought them to Arizona, Mundschenk said.

Food from an infected chicken, such as meat or eggs, will not sicken humans, but the virus is fatal to birds. Symptoms are breathing difficulty and swelling of the bird’s eyelids, combs and wattles.

Mundschenk said it’s crucial to find the source and keep it contained where it was found to avoid it getting into commercial flocks.

“We don’t want it into the commercial flocks because it’s fairly fatal,” he said. “So they’re going to have to eliminate their birds out of the flock, or we would have to depopulate the flock anyway. It could adversely affect the commercial trade internationally.”

Chicken keepers can call the state poultry hotline or agriculture department if they suspect their birds have the disease.

Mundschenk recommends backyard keepers practice extra biosecurity caution when going from one person’s flock to their own, and not to share feed between flocks.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.