The Southern California Newcastle Disease Quarantine:What You need to Know

What you need to know about it


The Southern California Newcastle disease Quarantine and what you need to know about it

You may have heard about Virulent Newcastle disease hitting Southern California like a sumo wrestler slamming into a scrawny high school freshman.  So far 1.2 million birds in California have been euthanized and it has seriously impacted businesses and backyard chicken owners alike.

The first case of Virulent Newcastle Disease showed up in Riverside County, California on May 17, 2018.  Since then, it has spread mainly throughout Southern California, including 262 cases in Riverside County, 160 in San Bernardino County, 46 in Los Angeles County, 1 in Ventura County, 1 in Alameda County, and 1 in San Diego County.  USDA also confirmed 1 infected premises in Utah County, Utah and 1 infected premises in Coconino County, Arizona.

Sadly, we all thought the quarantine would be lifted in the New Year, but after months of no cases, December brought us twenty new cases. Most importantly, the majority of all recent cases are with backyard chickens. That means that you and I and all the other small chicken owners are responsible for both spreading and stopping this epidemic.

The quarantine zone. Are you in it?

What is it

Newcastle Disease is one of the most serious bird diseases around the world with a death rate of almost 100% in unvaccinated flocks.  Virulent Newcastle disease is its insane cousin and can infect and kill even vaccinated birds.

Virulent Newcastle disease is an extremely contagious and very fatal disease that affects all types of birds and poultry.  It attacks the nervous, digestive and respiratory systems and is so powerful (or virulent) that many times the birds die before ever even showing a symptom.  While all birds can get it, it has been killing chickens by the hundreds of thousands.

How does it spread

Virulent Newcastle disease spreads by body fluids.  Typically it is spread when a sick bird comes in contact with a healthy bird.  However, it can also be spread on manure, egg crates, farming equipment and on someone’s clothing, shoes or hands.

The Virulent Newcastle disease virus is relatively stable outside the body, making this virus extra scary.  It can live for up to 7 days in the summer, 14 days in the spring and 30 days in the winter.  This means it is really easy to transmit even if you think you’re being safe. 

What are the symptoms of Newcastle Disease?

Clinical signs in chickens include:

  • Sudden death and increased death loss in flock;
  • Sneezing, gasping for air, nasal discharge, coughing;
  • Greenish, watery diarrhea;
  • Decreased activity, tremors, drooping wings, twisting of head and neck, circling, complete stiffness; and
  • Swelling around the eyes and neck.
The twisting neck of a sick chicken

Virulent Newcastle disease is so difficult to eradicate because sometimes it kills birds before any symptoms show up. People don’t realize their birds are infected.  The incubation time of the virus is 2-15 days which means that your entire flock could be infected for two weeks before they show any signs.  If you are selling or buying chickens, you could very easily end up with infected birds and quickly spread the virus.

What are the rules

And this is why we now have a quarantine and a whole bunch of serious rules about birds right now that you better follow and not just for legal reasons.  How about the ethical ones?  Could you sleep at night knowing that you helped spread the disease and killed other people’s chickens?

Rooster with Virulent Newcastle disease

The quarantine order stops all movement of poultry, poultry products, and other items that can spread the virus such as feed, manure, and litter within the quarantine zone.

You can apply for a moving permit, where someone will come out and test your flock to certify they are disease free.

Humans can get Newcastle disease

If a person is around a bird with Virulent Newcastle Disease, it is possible to catch.  It isn’t fatal when a person catches it fortunately. It can make them sick with mild flu symptoms and/or conjunctivitis-Pink Eye.  You can easily protect yourself from Newcastle disease by wearing protective clothing and equipment, assuming you even know the birds have it. 

Conjunctivitis or Pink eye is a symptom us humans get

What does this mean for me?

This means that you aren’t buying new chickens any time soon.  I just got a chick catalog in the mail and it’s absolutely killing me, especially since we are only a half mile from the edge of the quarantine zone.  

I understand 100% how hard it is to be patient and not buy birds.    We can’t sell any of our birds or buy more to raise for meat to sell customers.  

It sucks.

But you don’t want to spread this disease further.  It’s still here torturing all of us and killing our birds because people keep insisting on breaking the rules and moving their birds.  Don’t. do. it.

Don’t be responsible for this happening to other’s birds

Should I report if I think my birds have Newcastle?

Yes! Yes! And Yes!  It would suck so bad to have my flock euthanized.  I have been breeding them for fifteen years and put a lot of effort into it.  But if my birds are infected, they need to be put down.  For my health and for the protection of all of the chickens in southern california.  Please report.

All bird owners should report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials right away, either through their state veterinarian or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593.

For more information about biosecurity practices, visit USDA’s Defend the Flock website. 


  1. There are hundreds of ads on Craigslist selling chickens. The adds are mostly in Spanish. Can’t the authorities go after these guys?

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