Belize has notified the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) of two outbreaks of Virulent Newcastle Disease in backyard poultry in the Toledo and Belize districts. Disease investigations were conducted after farmers reported high mortality in their backyard poultry. BAHA's Central Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory detected the virulent Newcastle Disease virus in samples submitted and these findings were confirmed by an OIE reference laboratory in Ames, Iowa, USA. Following confirmation and notification, an Emergency Task Force has been activated to develop and implement control measures. The task force consists of government agencies and stakeholders such as IICA, OIRSA and the Belize Poultry Association (BPA).

Virulent Newcastle Disease is not a food safety concern. No human cases of Newcastle Disease have ever occurred from eating poultry products. Properly cooked poultry products are safe to eat. In very rare instances people working directly with sick birds can become infected. The most common sign of infection in humans is a transient, non-life threatening, non-debilitating conjunctivitis, which usually develops within a day after eye exposure.

The Toledo District and Belize City have been declared as infected areas and movement of poultry and poultry products from these infected areas is prohibited. In-transit movement of poultry, poultry products and by-products through Belize City requires a Movement Permit from BAHA. A vaccination and communication campaign have been launched. Farmers are requested to report any high mortality in poultry to BAHA, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise (MAFSE) or the Belize Poultry Association. Poultry infected with Newcastle Disease virus may show, along with high mortality, swollen head especially around the eyes, tearing and green diarrhoea.

It is essential that all poultry owners follow good biosecurity practices to help protect their birds from infectious diseases. These include simple measures such as washing hands and scrubbing boots before and after entering a fowl coop or barn; cleaning and disinfecting tires and equipment before moving them off the property, separating sick birds and vaccination.

Vaccination as an emergency control measure will be implemented in infected and control areas through MAFSE, BAHA, IICA, OIRSA and BPA. Vaccines for backyard poultry in the rest of the country will subsequently be made available through commercial outlets.

Please report any high mortality in poultry to 824-4889 (BAHA, Central Farm) or 302-1388 (BAHA, Orange Walk).