CHICKEN DISEASE SPREADING.
LITTLEROCK - State agricultural inspectors posted bird quarantine notices in Littlerock as part of an escalating battle against a disease that devastated California poultry farms 30 years ago.
Exotic Newcastle disease's discovery among Littlerock chickens came the same week state agricultural officials killed more than 100,000 chickens at neighboring Riverside County egg farms after one bird tested positive for the disease.
``We are very concerned about it because of the virulent nature of the disease,'' California Department of Food and Agriculture spokeswoman Leticia Rico said.
State officials have halted exports of chickens from most of Southern California, although eggs can still be exported by commercial ranchers if they are disinfected.
A highly contagious virus, exotic Newcastle disease is considered almost 100 percent fatal among chickens. The disease does not affect people, and state agricultural officials say it does not make chicken meat or eggs unsafe to eat.
But state officials have stepped up testing and quarantines around Southern California to avoid a repetition of a 1971 California outbreak, which resulted in the destruction of nearly 12 million chickens and other birds.
Blamed on infected parrots imported from South America, the 1971 outbreak took two years to control and cost taxpayers $56 million.
The disease was first discovered in California in the 1950s among chukar quail and pheasants imported from Hong Kong. The last California outbreak was in 1998, when a small flock of game fowl was apparently infected by a bird bought at a swap meet. The flock was destroyed and no other cases were discovered, state officials say.
The latest outbreak involves a virus that closely resembles one that hit the Mexican poultry industry in 2000, state officials said, killing or leading to the destruction of 13.6 million chickens.
Since the new Southern California outbreak started in September, the disease has been found in birds kept in back yards in South El Monte, La Puente, Compton and Montebello as well as in the Antelope Valley and in western Riverside and San Bernardino counties, state officials said.
The Riverside County egg ranches were the first commercial poultry flocks to be infected.
Besides hitting backyard chicken owners, the outbreak and quarantine have worried owners of exotic birds such as parrots, who fear their birds may be ordered destroyed if state inspectors find infected chickens near their homes. They blame illegal cockfights for the disease's spread.
A Palmdale parrot owner worried about the situation said she heard of Newcastle disease being found this fall in Lake Los Angeles, then in the same Littlerock neighborhood where more notices went up Friday.
``I stopped going to the feed store,'' said the woman, who didn't want to be named. ``I don't want anything dragged home to my birds.''
Rico was unable to say how many infected chickens were found in Littlerock.
The individual quarantine notices order that no poultry can be moved off the premises, Rico said. All the chickens on the property will be destroyed, as well as any nearby flocks that state officials judge likely to be infected. The state pays owners what it determines is fair market value for the birds, Rico said.
Since November, a quarantine has barred moving chickens out of Los Angeles or western Riverside or San Bernardino counties. Until the egg ranch discoveries, commercial chicken ranchers were exempted from the shipment ban if they agreed to restrictions including weekly inspections.
The virus can be spread by chicken droppings, so if a person - like a chicken rancher, egg deliveryman or veterinarian - walks among one flock and then visits another it can travel on his shoes, state officials say. Rodents running between one flock and another can also spread the disease, or birds - like pigeons - that fly from one flock to another.