Should we be worried about Newcastle disease?

Newcastle disease affects not just pheasant and partridge, but poultry and a selection of wild birds

Newcastle disease affects not just pheasant and partridge, but poultry and a selection of wild birds too - Credit: Archant

Should we be worried about Newcastle disease affecting the pheasant season? Rita Alves of Dalton’s Game Consultancy replies...

Q: Can Newcastle disease affect pheasants? Do we need to worry about it during the shooting season?

RITA ALVES of Dalton’s Game Consultancy replies: Newcastle disease (ND) is a notifiable disease caused by a virus called Paramyxovirus Type 1. Over 250 bird species are susceptible to the disease including pheasants and partridges. The last virulent outbreak in England was in 2005 in pheasants imported from France.

Clinical signs include respiratory disease such as coughing, gaping beak, sneezing, rattling, diarrhea (usually yellowish green in colour), nervous signs characterised by tremors and paralysis and twisting of the neck, depression and lack of appetite.

Hens may stop laying or produce misshapen eggs. In severe outbreaks, mortality can reach 90%. The virus is highly contagious and can spread through direct contact with faeces and respiratory discharge between birds or by contaminated food, water, equipment (such as trucks) and human clothing. Game birds can present unusual clinical signs or even no clinical signs when infected with strains of the ND virus, including some that would cause disease in chickens.

This summer, there have been several outbreaks of the disease in Belgium in hobby birds – mainly chickens – and in two poultry commercial sites. As I write this, the UK is at medium risk, which means events can occur regularly. The disease could be introduced to the UK through the movement of live birds or wild birds, contact with fomites and contaminated equipment, clothing or transport or contact with infected meat and meat products.

As there are a variety of species of wild birds that may be susceptible and may act as a reservoir for ND, you should make reasonable efforts to minimise the chance of wild birds accessing the same feed and water you provide to your birds.

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Keep vigilant for any signs of disease and keep high standards of biosecurity in the shoot such as disinfecting boots, washing and disinfecting drinkers and washing hands, especially after handling dead birds.

Newcastle disease is a mild zoonosis (disease of animals that can also infect humans) and can cause conjunctivitis in humans, but the condition is generally very mild and self-limiting. If you have any concerns about the disease always speak to your vet. You can also check government websites (e.g. Defra) as they are updated with the latest information on the disease.

Please note: the information written on the last ND outbreaks recorded might be outdated by the time the article is published