Keeping Your Birds Safe from Disease

Jun 29, 2018

Chicken with surgical mask
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has identified several cases of virulent Newcastle disease in small flocks of backyard birds in Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County. The initial case was detected at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory (CAHFS) when a private practitioner submitted a sick bird for testing.  All detections are confirmed at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa. This was the first case of virulent Newcastle disease, previously referred to as exotic Newcastle disease, in the U.S. since 2003. CDFA is working with federal and local partners as well as poultry owners to respond to the incident. State officials have quarantined potentially exposed birds and are testing for the disease.

Virulent Newcastle disease is a highly contagious and deadly virus in birds; the virus is found in respiratory discharges and feces. Clinical signs in birds include: 

  • Sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, green watery diarrhea, depression 
  • neck twisting, circling, muscle tremors, paralysis, decreased egg production 
  • swelling around eyes and neck, sudden death.

It is essential that all poultry owners follow good biosecurity practices to help protect their birds from infectious diseases such as virulent Newcastle. These include simple steps like washing hands and scrubbing boots before and after entering a poultry area; cleaning and disinfecting tires and equipment before and after moving them on/off the property; and isolating any sick birds. New or returning birds from shows should be isolated for 30 days before placing them with the rest of the flock.

For backyard flock owners, biosecurity measures include using dedicated shoes and clothes when caring for birds and not to use/wear those clothes/shoes in other areas.

In addition to practicing good biosecurity, all bird owners should report sick birds or unusual bird deaths through California's Sick Bird Hotline at 866-922-BIRD (2473). Additional information on VND and biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at

Click here for more information regarding vaccination of backyard birds.

Sick or dead backyard birds can be submitted to CAHFS laboratories for post-mortem examination ($20 plus shipping and handling).  Information on this program can be found at:

For additional information on who to contact for issues regarding backyard poultry, see:

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. In very rare instances people working directly with sick birds can become infected. Symptoms are usually very mild, and limited to conjunctivitis and/or influenza-like symptoms. Infection is easily prevented by using standard personal protective equipment.