USDA warns N.H. farmers about bird virus

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has run full-page advertisements in newspapers all across the country – including New Hampshire – warning farmers about an avian disease that has not hit almost all of America in 30 years. And they would like to keep it that way.

Spending some $4 million in ads in 30 newspapers, the USDA warned backyard farmers and bird enthusiasts about Exotic Newcastle Disease, also known as END, a virus deadly to all species of birds, most often seen in poultry.

There has not been a widespread epidemic of the disease since 1971, leaving some state veterinary officials and representatives of the New Hampshire Farm Bureau scratching their heads over the USDA’s actions.

State Veterinarian Cliff McGinnis said he was “not sure what the deal is. The USDA’s ads came as a bit of a surprise. They didn’t tell us they were going to do a public information campaign.”

Allyson Brehm of the New Hampshire Farm Bureau had not heard of the notices either. “We usually get the reports directly from the USDA,” she said.

END is not the same disease as Avian Influenza, the so-called “bird flu” that has gripped some Asian countries. END does not cause serious illness in humans.

According to Dr. Robert Brady, an epidemiologist at USDA headquarters in Maryland, after a 2002-2003 outbreak in California, studies suggested that, while surveillance of commercial flocks was adequate, “there was a hole in backyard poultry farmer observations.”

He said the USDA wanted to provide information to smaller hobby farmers and poultry raisers, and consequently ran the ads to educate those individuals.

The disease has nearly 100 percent mortality among birds. An outbreak in 1971 devastated the poultry industry and cost some $56 million to eradicate.

Poultry are most susceptible because of the crowded conditions in which they live, which lead to rapid spread of the disease.

Meat and eggs from infected birds are harmless to humans, said Brady.

Like many human diseases, the best cure is prevention. Brady said the best way to control END is by scrupulous cleanliness. “If you are handling birds, wash your hands before and after, change your shoes and clothes and don’t let your birds mix with birds from another flock.”

He said most birds displayed at fairs or poultry shows must be certified healthy to compete, but because the incidence of END in the United States is rare, he did not know if END was one the diseases routinely tested for.

For more information, call the USDA at 866-536-7593 or visit

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