Las Vegas SUN

Today: February 05, 2003 at 9:31:43 PST

Spread of bird disease believed stopped

By Ed Koch


Authorities believe they have made considerable progress in their efforts to control exotic Newcastle disease in Clark and Nye counties.

Many birds once again can be sold in Las Vegas pet shops, and no cases of the highly contagious and incurable avian disease have been found in Las Vegas in more than a week, officials said Tuesday.

But that doesn't mean the outbreak is over in the region, they cautioned. Arizona was added Tuesday to the list of states where the disease has been confirmed. And authorities are warning that the costs of the eradication effort -- already in the tens of millions of dollars -- are continuing to climb.

Through Tuesday, the cost of the eradication program in Nevada alone has reached $1.4 million, officials said. The effort has involved 100 sites and the killing of about 1,670 birds whose owners were compensated.

Those numbers pale in comparison to those of California, however, where about 2 million birds, mainly chickens, have been destroyed in six counties the last four months at a cost of $26 million, said Nolan Lemon, spokesman for the Exotic Newcastle Disease Task Force.

The eradication effort in California has included backyard birds as well as commercial flocks. California has a $3 billion-a-year poultry products industry.

An exotic Newcastle disease outbreak in the early 1970s cost the U.S. government $56 million. In today's money that would amount to $202 million, said David Thain, a Nevada Department of Agriculture veterinarian. The current efforts could wind up being just as costly before they are finished, he said.

If more cases of infected poultry are discovered in Nevada, the euthanization and cleanup efforts will resume. In the meantime, a quarantine remains in effect for chickens, geese, ducks, doves, pigeons, swans, turkeys, peafowl, quail, emus and ostriches. Those types of birds cannot be sold or moved.

The Nevada Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday, however, that it was easing restrictions on pet shops and avian specialty stores. The stores had been forbidden from selling any birds since Jan. 17, after an outbreak of the disease was discovered in chickens in northeast Las Vegas near Nellis Air Force Base.

As of Tuesday, the valley's seven bird stores and other pet shops were able to resume selling parakeets, parrots, cockatiels and other birds commonly kept in indoor cages. The birds can be sold under certain conditions as long as they are healthy and as long as there is a record of who purchased the birds, authorities said.

"We are continuing surveillance, but businesses that sign an agreement will be permitted to get back into play," Thain said. "We have determined there is a minimal risk of spreading exotic Newcastle disease from commercial pet stores."

That was welcome news for area pet stores.

"It has been devastating for us," said Mary Riley, owner of Bahnna Bird Farm at 1235 N. Nellis Blvd., which does not deal in barnyard birds and has not been allowed to sell domestic birds -- its lifeblood -- for 2 1/2 weeks.

"Some of our regular customers have bought extra supplies to help us out. We'll survive. This is a good season for us because traditionally people have spent part of their tax refund checks to buy birds."

Riley said, however, that because of publicity generated by the outbreak, there is a general fear of birds. Health officials say the disease poses no health threat to humans. Riley has more than 500 birds in stock that range in price from $8 to $2,500, that state officials have said are not infected, she said.

The eradication of Exotic Newcastle disease on Southern Nevada has centered on an area bound by Owens Avenue to the south, Marion Street to the east, Cheyenne Avenue to the north and Wilkins Street to the west.

Necropsies recently conducted on 60 birds from that area -- owned by Jill Duncan, the most vocal critic of the eradication process -- found no signs of disease.

Thain said lab tests of a sampling of Duncan's birds to conclusively determine whether they had the disease will take about two weeks.

Duncan contended that all of the birds should have been tested first in order to spare healthy ones, but authorities obtained a court order to euthanize her birds Saturday.

Thain said the 215 federal and state agents who are conducting the eradication process have no choice but to destroy all birds -- healthy or otherwise -- in the infected area.

"We had to look at the one-kilometer area around the (original infected) site to address all potential exposure," Thain said. "In that process, normal, healthy birds are destroyed to ensure that the disease does not get out of the area, so we can save the larger population of healthy birds."

Thain said to date seven sites have been found to be infected, but he would not disclose those locations, citing confidentiality laws. All sites where birds were killed were cleaned and disinfected to stem the potential spread of the disease.

Officials have repeatedly assured the public that the disease is not a health risk for people, only birds.

Las Vegas SUN main page

Questions or problems? Click here.

All contents copyright 2003 Las Vegas SUN, Inc.

Ruger Design

All artwork and graphics are the property of Ruger Design and are protected by copyright law. Any reproduction of these graphics without the written permission of Ruger Design is forbidden by law.