Search to Target Infected Poultry

Times Staff Writer

After confirming that a chicken in Somis died from the exotic Newcastle disease, Ventura County's agricultural commissioner said a door-to-door inspection will begin next week to identify any other infected poultry across the county.

State and federal inspectors will begin their search at the Somis property and fan out in every direction, Commissioner Earl McPhail said. At its peak, the search could involve as many as "a couple hundred inspectors," he said.

The inspectors will look for any fowl with symptoms of the disease, such as breathing problems and muscular tremors, and will take random blood samples.

While there are no commercial chicken or egg farms in Ventura County, McPhail said many residents raise chickens at home for their eggs.

The virus, which is harmless to humans, is spread primarily when healthy birds come in contact with the fecal matter of infected birds.

The action comes on the heels of the federal government and Gov. Gray Davis both declaring a state of emergency Wednesday to contain the disease to Southern California.

The quarantine also prohibits all poultry exhibitions, which means the Ventura County Fair could be prevented from hosting its normal slate of competitions.

"If we are still under quarantine come the end of July or the first of August," McPhail said, "there will be no fowl at the fair."

Newcastle disease is a deadly avian virus that is threatening 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 latest outbreak was discovered in backyard chicken flocks in Compton in October and in commercial poultry in December, according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture. During the last several weeks, state officials have called for the destruction of about 1.2 million chickens.

Chickens in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Orange counties were quarantined in late December. Wednesday's declaration expanded the quarantine area to Ventura, Santa Barbara and Imperial counties.

"The biggest concern right now is to make sure poultry and other host fowl are not moved around," McPhail said. "People who have poultry in their backyard need to make sure they don't take mud on their shoes or boots to their neighbor's house."

Quarantine violators can be fined up to $25,000.

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