Poultry keepers warned to be vigilant after outbreaks of Newcastle Disease in Europe

Norfolk chickens. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norfolk chickens. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

Poultry keepers have been warned to guard against possible outbreaks of Newcastle Disease following cases of the virus in flocks in mainland Europe.

Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) experts have raised the UK risk level from 'low' to 'medium' after recent cases in smallholder flocks and commercial poultry sites in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg

Newcastle Disease can be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected birds, and it can cause severe losses in certain poultry species, including commercial and specialist breeds, pet chickens, and other captive birds including racing pigeons.

Public Health England advises the risk of Newcastle Disease affecting people is very low.

Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss urged all poultry keepers - whether of commercial, smallholder flocks or specialist breeds or pet chickens - to 'remain vigilant to the clinical signs of this disease, and put in place strong biosecurity measures to ensure the health and welfare of their birds'.

Clinical symptoms include:

• Respiratory distress, such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling and rattling

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• Nervous behaviour, such as tremors, paralysis and twisting of the neck

• Unusually watery faeces that are yellowish-green in colour

• Depression and a lack of appetite

• Producing fewer eggs which could be misshapen and soft-shelled

Precautions advised to poultry keepers include:

• Ensuring, where appropriate, their birds have been vaccinated against the disease.

• Implementing strict biosecurity measures on their premises, including using disinfectant foot baths and reducing visitors to the birds.

• Thoroughly cleaning vehicles, equipment, clothing, boots that have been in contact with birds.

• Feeding and watering should be under cover and kept away from wild birds.

• Washing their hands with soap and water after handling their own birds.

Newcastle disease is a notifiable animal disease. If a keeper suspects that their birds may be infected, they must contact their vet and the APHA immediately.

For more information and advice, see the Defra website.