A virulent form of Newcastle disease (vND), “a contagious and fatal viral disease affecting the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems of birds and poultry,” as described on USDA’s Virulent Newcastle Disease webpage has been confirmed in 93 cases in backyard exhibition chickens and turkeys by USDA since May 18, 2018.

The last outbreak of vND started in 2002 infecting 22 commercial premises and hundreds of backyard flocks, at a cost of over $180 million dollars to eradicate the outbreak, officially ending on March 26, 2003.  That outbreak, which started in California spread to four other states, but the majority of affected premises were in California.

Since May of this year, USDA has been regularly updating its stakeholders with information about the current outbreak, which to date, has not infected commercial poultry premises.

USDA reports that vND (previously called Exotic Newcastle Disease or END) “is one of the most infectious diseases of poultry in the world and is so deadly that many birds die without showing any signs of disease. A death rate of almost 100 percent can occur in unvaccinated poultry flocks. It can infect and cause death even in vaccinated birds.”

There are “three simple steps” USDA describes to prevent the disease from spreading to other flocks including:

Washing hands and scrubbing boots before and after entering an area with birds;

Cleaning and disinfecting tires and equipment before moving them off the property; and

Isolating any birds returning from shows for 30 days before placing them with the rest of the flock.

Bird owners are directed to contact state and federal animal health officials if their birds exhibit the following clinical signs:

Sudden death and increased death loss in flock

Sneezing, gasping for air, nasal discharge, coughing

Greenish, watery diarrhea

Decreased activity, tremors, drooping wings, twisting of head and neck, circling, complete stiffness

Swelling around the eyes and neck.

USDA also amended Veterinary Services Memorandum No. 800103 “Reissuance of Product Licenses for Autogenous Products and Guidance Concerning Restriction on the Production and Use of Veterinary Biologics,” seemingly related to concerns about the use of some virulent viruses in autogenous vaccines.

VS Memorandum 800.103 was signed on July 18, 2018, and cancels VS Memorandum 800.103 dated May 28, 2002. This memorandum provides guidance to licensees, permittees, and applicants concerning Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s restrictions on the production, importation, distribution, and use of autogenous biologics. This memorandum is effective immediately.

As described in Memorandum 800.103:  

APHIS restricts the importation and distribution of veterinary biologics from countries known to have exotic diseases, including, but not limited to, foot-and-mouth disease, rinderpest, highly pathogenic avian influenza, swine vesicular disease, Newcastle disease, African swine fever, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy if, in the opinion of APHIS, such products may endanger domestic animals, livestock, or poultry.

In addition, APHIS restricts the production and distribution of veterinary biologics, including, but not limited to, Brucella Abortus Vaccine, Vesicular Stomatitis Vaccine, and certain diagnostic products used in cooperative State/Federal/industry animal disease control and eradication programs, if it determines such products may interfere with disease surveillance and/or control and eradication efforts.

The instant amendments appear to be an attempt to prevent potentially virulent virus from inclusion in autogenous vaccines (a reasonable limitation).  Therefore, field isolates intended for inclusion in such products must be tested at an APHIS-approved laboratory before such use.

Hopefully, this outbreak will be resolved soon and without infecting more backyard or commercial-raised birds.