Highly Pathogenic Animal Diseases

Virulent Newcastle disease (VND), formerly known as Exotic Newcastle Disease, and African Swine Fever outbreaks continue to impact poultry in California and hogs in China, respectively.  Notably, these diseases are largely not infectious to humans, but nevertheless are impacting farmers, ranchers, hobbyists, national and internal markets.

California has been trying to stamp out VND since last May.  Unfortunately, the outbreak, which initially infected only backyard breeders and owners, has since spread to some commercial flocks.  As reported by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), “[s]ince May 2018, USDA/APHIS and CDFA employees have been working seven days a week in Southern California to eradicate virulent Newcastle disease in backyard birds, and to protect commercial facilities.”

Virulent Newcastle disease (VND), formerly known as Exotic Newcastle Disease, is a serious, highly contagious viral disease that can affect poultry and other birds. In rare cases, humans that have exposure to infected birds may get eye inflammation or mild fever-like symptoms. These signs generally resolve without treatment, however, medical care should be sought if symptoms persist. Infection is easily prevented by using standard personal protective equipment. Virulent Newcastle disease is not a food safety concern. No human cases of Newcastle disease have ever occurred from eating poultry products. Properly cooked poultry products are safe to eat.

This is not CDFA’s first rodeo with VND.  From 2002-2003, VND outbreaks in back yard flocks and commercial poultry operations in Southern California, Arizona, Nevada and Texas “led to the depopulation of 3.16 million birds at a cost of $161 million” before the outbreak was successfully eradicated.

Since the current VND outbreak has persisted, despite a robust state and federal response, the California State Veterinarian has announced the following additional draconian measures in an attempt to contain this outbreak:

Due to progression and duration of a virulent Newcastle Disease (VND) outbreak in parts of Southern California, the State Veterinarian has ordered mandatory euthanasia of birds in neighborhoods in Compton (Los Angeles County), Muscoy (San Bernardino County), Mira Loma/Jurupa Valley (Riverside County)       Perris (Riverside County).

Unfortunately, even if birds and flocks have previously tested negative but now fall within a designated mandatory euthanasia area, the birds must be euthanized. USDA/CDFA staff will contact affected bird owners.

While this action is difficult for all involved, it MUST be done to eradicate VND. Otherwise, the disease will continue to spread and kill additional flocks.

When depopulation of flocks is mandated to contain such a devastating outbreak it is very difficult on animal owners as well as the animal health officials involved.

Parallel measures have seemingly been deployed in China, where African Swine Fever was first confirmed in more than 50 cases since August 2018.

According to USDA, African Swine Fever was “first described in the 1920s in Kenya, is a highly contagious hemorrhagic disease of wild and domestic suids with extremely high morbidity and mortality rates. ASF is a notifiable disease with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) due to its ability to spread rapidly and cause severe illness. ASF does not pose a risk to public health.”

Similar to concerns about the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease virus in the UK in 2001—considered the most contagious virus affecting animals—ASF can be spread by people or equipment not properly decontaminated.  Because of such concerns, the USDA and U.S. pork producers and related associations have provided information to producers about how to protect their animals against accidental exposure.

ASF has reportedly “infected 100 farms across China since August 2018, spreading faster than in any other country to date.”  

The National Pork Producers Council reported

On August 3, 2018, China reported their first case of ASF. By August 23, 2018 there were four outbreaks reported, and more are suspected. The outbreaks are in areas of China with large pig populations. APHIS, CBP and all other agencies with relevant authority are monitoring movements of people and goods from these areas to guard against an ASF outbreak in the United States. ASF does not infect people or other animals, and there are no food safety implications.

USDA has posted several guidance documents regarding its response to the ASF outbreak, available here.

A list of tasks intended to prevent the importation of infected or contaminated products, include the following precautionary measures:

APHIS import restrictions prohibit the entry of untreated animal products, including meat and meat products, from countries or regions considered affected with certain diseases. Fresh/frozen pork is prohibited from regions affected with FMD, CSF, SVD, or ASF, while meat that has been cooked is allowed under APHIS regulations.

Swine casings that originate from ASF positive countries/regions are prohibited entry into the US under APHIS regulations.

APHIS acted to deny entry of Chinese origin swine casings in transit when ASF was found in China.

A comprehensive list is available at usda-industry-prevention-points.pdf.