An outbreak of a deadly chicken virus in California is now in Arizona. Agriculture officials have confirmed the first case in Coconino County of virulent Newcastle disease. It’s an upper respiratory-GI illness that can affect both commercial and backyard chickens. So far it’s the only known case in the state, but there still is reason for concern. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius spoke with Arizona State Veterinarian Dr. Peter Mundschenk who’s heading up the investigation.
Ryan Heinsius: Where did this disease come from and how did it get to Arizona?
Dr. Peter Mundschenk: We’re not exactly sure how it got into Arizona, up in the upper Flagstaff area. We do know that the disease is very closely related genetically to the virulent Newcastle outbreak that has been going on in California since May of last year. So, we’re suspicious that either someone brought a bird over to that area out of a quarantine zone like they did in Utah, which infected a flock up there, or that somebody may have been over by infected birds in California came back and somehow there was still virus on their clothing particles and somehow to have spread the disease here in Arizona.
RH: This is just one case right?
PM: Yes, we just had one place that was infected up there. The state of Arizona and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have worked together and we’ve done a one-kilometer surveillance zone around the infected premises, surveying and swabbing birds for the last week. We just finished up that 1-k zone and have not found any other infected premises.
RH: Does this have agricultural officials worried about effects on, say, commercial farms or the greater food supply?
PM: Commercial farms can get infected and, as I mentioned earlier, it’s nearly 100 percent fatal. So we try really hard to keep it out of our commercial operations. California has had a couple spillovers into commercial operations this year where they’ve had to go in and depopulate the whole commercial operation. That’s why we take this very seriously. We want to protect commercial operations.
RH: What do owners of chickens have to do? Is this something that requires keepers of chickens to kill their flock?
PM: If the flock is infected the chances of, the virulence of the disease is so much that there’s no cure so it will pretty much go through the whole flock killing the flock anyway causing slow suffering and death. So in that case, yes, we do depopulate the flock to prevent further spread of the disease.
RH: Backyard chickens are a really big deal these days especially in Coconino County and especially in Flagstaff. What might this mean for folks who keep backyard chickens?
PM: Owners should kind of practice a little soft bio-security. Basically, if you have birds and you go over to your neighbor’s house and they have birds, come home, wash your hands, maybe take off your coat and keep it away from your birds, that type of thing. Don’t go directly from place to place and track manure and/or feed particles from one place to another and make sure that you’re not sharing cages, water troughs or water bowls, and feed bowls from place to place.
RH: Does this have implications for public health in a broader sense? Can humans contract this disease?
PM: Humans cannot contract the disease from eating eggs or poultry products so there’s no chance of them contracting the disease. If they were in an area with chickens with a lot of virus, potentially they could get irritation to the eyes from the virus, but will not become infected with the virus.