This year’s San Benito County Fair will be missing some of its usual attendees. No chickens or turkeys will be in attendance, and San Benito County is not alone. Several other Northern California county fairs including Monterey, Fresno, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara will not permit poultry shows because of an outbreak of Virulent Newcastle disease in Southern California. The California State Fair has also canceled its poultry shows.
On Feb. 27, the California Department of Food and Agriculture enforced a quarantine on poultry in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties to prevent the disease from spreading. In a statement on July 2, the department said there have been no new cases since June 4 and they were moving toward eradication. The outbreak began in May 2018.
According to Los Angeles County Public Health, the outbreak is likely a result of cockfighting operations in Southern California. Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
According to San Benito County Fair media contact Dara Tobias, the fair decided to cancel this year’s poultry shows under recommendation from the Department of Food and Agriculture because an infected bird was found in Alameda County earlier this year. Tobias said the decision to cancel was made in early spring in order to give 4-H participants, who would normally bring birds to market, time to start an alternative project. Erring on the side of caution, the fair also decided to cancel any non-market poultry shows.
Tobias said that while some exhibitors will miss the event, she did not think the absence of poultry would impact the fair.
“We did not want to bring anything into a place where someone’s birds could get sick,” she said.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, Virulent Newcastle disease usually surfaces as an acute respiratory infection, although depression, nervous manifestations, or diarrhea can also be present. The disease is predominantly found in chickens and turkeys, but can also infect waterfowl. Some wild bird species such as cormorants can also be infected; the disease is also found in imported parrot species.
Infected birds shed the virus in exhaled air, respiratory discharges, and feces. The virus is then transmitted to other birds through inhalation or through a slower fecal-oral route. Poultry vaccinations are available.
The Merck manual states that all strains of the virus can cause transitory conjunctivitis in humans, though the condition has been found primarily in laboratory workers and vaccination personnel exposed to large quantities of the virus.