- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 8 (UPI) — Agriculture officials extended the quarantine against chickens that might be afflicted with Exotic Newcastle disease to eight Southern California counties Wednesday while officials in Washington state asked that its residents be on the lookout for signs the disease was spreading to other western states.

While Exotic Newcastle poses no threat to humans, it can quickly decimate poultry flocks and has been spreading quickly among chicken farms from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

"Exotic Newcastle is a devastating bird illness that has the potential to wipe out the poultry industry," California Gov. Gray Davis said Wednesday in declaring a state of emergency in Southern California.

More than 1 million chickens have been destroyed since Exotic Newcastle was discovered on a commercial egg farm in December. At the time, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego Counties were placed under quarantine. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) added Santa Barbara, Imperial, Orange and Ventura Counties to the list late Wednesday as a precaution against the disease spreading farther.

"The expanded quarantine creates a buffer zone around infected sites and provides additional security against spread of the disease," the Agriculture Department said in a release. "To do this, additional quarantines are immediately being imposed on non-infected counties adjacent to those counties infected with disease through the declaration of extraordinary emergency issued by the USDA today."

A virus that is often spread through commercial chicken farms by feather mites and dust from droppings, can incubate in only a three-day time period causes exotic Newcastle. The disease acts so quickly and is so devastating that chickens often drop dead after showing no outward signs of infection or malaise.

The virus is not harmful to humans, so eggs and poultry products are considered safe to eat, although California officials have ordered that eggs be thoroughly washed and packed in new sanitary containers before being shipped out of the quarantined counties.

The Agriculture Department said a task force of more than 600 state and federal workers was tackling the outbreak.

"Employees are working to prevent the further spread of the disease through a series of actions including identifying flocks, imposing quarantines, euthanizing and disposing of birds when appropriate, and cleaning and disinfecting infected sites, as well as providing educational resources to the poultry industry and community residents," the agency said.

Exotic Newcastle is not considered a threat to water fowl and other wild birds, although the state of Washington Wednesday night urged that any shipments of "wild fowl" into the state from California or Mexico be reported to the state veterinarian's office.

"We want to test the birds to ensure that they do not carry disease," said State Veterinarian Dr. Robert Mead. "Sick or dead birds must be tested to confirm Exotic Newcastle Disease because signs of the virus mimic other bird diseases. State or federal veterinarians will work with private veterinarians at no charge to the owner to collect samples for testing."

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