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What is Newcastle Disease and how can it be prevented?

Newcastle Disease (NCD) is a serious viral disease of poultry that affects almost every country in the world and causes economic losses due to high levels of mortality. According to a report issued by the World Bank, it is ranked as the third most expensive poultry disease, after bird flu (high and low pathogenicity) and after infectious bronchitis.

Our prized chickens are vulnerable to disease. However, poultry farmers can keep disease at bay through proper feeding, shelter, hygiene, and regular vaccinations.

What is Newcastle Disease?

Newcastle disease is a highly contagious viral infection caused by a virulent strain of avian paramyxovirus type I (APMV-I) that affects many species of domestic and wild birds throughout the world.

The most affected are domestic birds such as chickens, turkeys, and parrots, while a mild form of the disease affects ducks, geese, pheasants, and quails. The disease can cause digestive, respiratory and/or nervous problems, which in its initial stage is very difficult to detect. However, as the days go by, the bird begins to lose its appetite, shows symptoms of very serious depression, decreased egg production in chickens, increased respiration, profuse diarrhea followed by collapse or nervous signs (such as crooked necks). This disease has a high mortality rate.

Newcastle Disease in humans is rare, but people exposed to infected birds may experience headaches, flu-like symptoms, and pink eye for 1-2 days.

What are the symptoms of Newcastle Disease?

The clinical signs of Newcastle disease are extremely variable depending on the strain and other factors, such as age, general health, and immune status of the birds. The signs can range from obvious clinical signs to a rapidly fatal condition. Typically, clinical signs involve the respiratory, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems, and may include:

  • depression
  • reduced food intake
  • weakness
  • sudden drop in egg production
  • coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • dark or very light combs and beards
  • loss of balance, spasms, circles, seizures, or paralysis of the wings or legs
  • death

How is Newcastle Disease spread?

Wild birds are the natural reservoir for Newcastle disease viruses. Infected birds transmit the virus through their feces, eye and nasal discharge, and expired air.

Domestic birds can become infected with Newcastle disease by:

  • direct contact with an infected bird
  • contamination of water or food by infected birds
  • contact with people, equipment, vehicles, shoes, or clothing contaminated by infected birds

What is the treatment for Newcastle Disease?

There is no treatment for Newcastle Disease. When you detect that some of your birds have some of the symptoms shown above, faster you must separate the bird and quarantine it so as not to spread the disease with the other birds.

Long-lived chickens (layers and breeders) in flocks of more than 1000 birds should be vaccinated against Newcastle disease and appropriate vaccination records should be kept.

Vaccination (NCD vaccine) in broilers is not mandatory unless they are kept for more than 24 weeks of age. ‘Meat chicken’ means any chicken raised for consumption as meat and includes broilers.

While it is not mandatory, owners with less than 1000 birds are encouraged to also vaccinate their chickens to prevent this terrible disease.

How to prevent Newcastle Disease?

Hygiene –  Maintaining hygiene in your pens is one of the most important steps that a poultry farmer can prevent disease in his birds.

The chicken coop must be kept clean at all times. Make sure to sweep up chicken droppings every day. If possible, apply a disinfectant regularly to kill germs or viruses that cause illness.

Housing –  An ideal home should give each bird at least two square feet of room to roam; birds that live in very small cages are prone to stress and even cannibalism. A coop should be well ventilated to allow free air circulation, but the coop should not allow wind to enter at night as this can affect the health of the birds.

Cleaning and Disinfection –  Newcastle disease virus is a resistant virus and can survive at room temperature for days to months. However, this disease is sensitive to most disinfectants and can be easily removed from surfaces if properly cleaned.

Additional data

Historically, Newcastle disease is a pandemic disease. The first outbreaks occurred in 1926, in Java, Indonesia (Kranvels, 1926), and in Newcastle-upon-Type, England (Doyle, 1927). Today we are in the 4th pandemic wave, caused by the genotype VII group. It was isolated in the mid-1980s when it began to occur in racing pigeons and affected several species of birds, and it became difficult to control due to a lack of controls on the production of racing pigeons.

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