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Ventura County

Agencies Testing for Avian Disease

Officials hope the voluntary screening of chickens and other birds in Ventura County will show that Newcastle is no longer a local danger.

June 07, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

Aiming to document that exotic Newcastle disease is no longer a threat to local poultry, federal and state workers are making what they hope is their final sweep of Ventura County for any trace of the virus.

The 16-member crew is working its way south through the county, going door to door in neighborhoods thought to be at risk, said Larry Cooper, a spokesman for a joint task force run by the state Department of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

If residents own chickens or other birds, they are asked to allow the crew to take a fecal swab to screen for the disease. The tests are voluntary, Cooper said.

Newcastle disease is a deadly avian virus that could threaten the state's $3-billion poultry business. A statewide outbreak in 1971 prompted the destruction of nearly 12 million chickens at a cost of $56 million. The disease took almost three years to eradicate.

The latest outbreak was discovered in backyard chicken flocks in Compton in October and in commercial poultry in December. The virus, which is harmless to humans, is spread primarily when healthy birds come in contact with the fecal matter of infected birds.

The only documented cases of the disease in Ventura County were in Simi Valley, where a total of 266 birds were destroyed at three sites this spring.

Quarantines of poultry in nine counties, including Ventura and Los Angeles, include a ban on poultry at county fairs this year.

Cooper said the survey crews, which include veterinarians, diagnosticians and epidemiologists, are aiming to obtain at least 400 swabs from disease-free birds. The final push, which began Thursday, should be finished by the middle of next week.

"We're doing this in hopes of eventually lifting the quarantine," he said. "We want to make sure we got all the sick birds."

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