With the cooperation of the RMS St Helena, the conservation team on Ascension Island and the RAF, the poultry samples taken from St Helena – consisting of sera, multiple organs, and swabs taken from eight severely affected chickens – arrived in excellent condition at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations reference laboratory in London.

The laboratory, a world centre of excellence, has now diagnosed Newcastle Disease, also known as Fowl Plague. The laboratory will now grow and isolate the virus, with the intention of identifying the specific strain and potential source.

There is no threat to general public health on St Helena. However, those in direct contact with infected birdsmay develop a very short-term eye infection (conjunctivitis), which passes without treatment. Poultry keepers on St Helena are advised of the possibility of eye infections.

No human cases of Newcastle Disease have occurred through eating any poultry products.

In terms of preventative measures, ANRD has already deployed a vaccine from South Africa to protect the Island’s parent stock and other large flocks around the two initial sites of outbreak. This is called ring vaccination, and if another outbreak occurs outside this ring, it may be necessary to vaccinate other flocks of domestic chickens on the Island. These measures will mitigate risk of spread to wild birds too. ANRD will monitor the situation. The public will be kept informed of any other outbreaks and of the final laboratory findings.

This disease is not confined to poultry. The disease rarely has a fatal outcome for wild birds, but as virulence varies between viral strains and bird species, the potential effect on St Helena’s wild birds cannot be accurately predicted, until the strain is identified.

More will be known about the specific strain and the potential source once the laboratory has completed its investigations.

Measures are also now being put in place to prevent the movement of local eggs and poultry products from St Helena to other destinations.

Vaccination has already been applied to poultry at susceptible sites and application of the simple hygiene measures detailed below will help to reduce the potential spread of the disease.

Any enquiries relating to Newcastle Disease can be made to the Head of ANRD on tel. 24724 or email. darren-duncan@enrd.gov.sh

The public are encouraged to report any unusual bird deaths.



  • Set up a footbath such as a bucket or washing up bowl filled with disinfectant or bleach at the entrance to the coop. Dip your feet on the way in and on the way out to create a barrier to germs
  • Wherever practical, keep your poultry inside the coop
  • Even if your set-up means you are unable to do this, keep all feed and water inside the coop
  • Do your best to exclude wild birds by blocking holes and using netting, and remove any spilled feed that could attract wild birds
  • Have a dedicated set of boots and overalls for your poultry coop which never leaves your property
  • Wash your hands after visiting the chickens
  • Discourage visitors to your coop and avoid visiting birds at other premises
  • Protective eyewear is advisable during actual outbreaks

Please report any unusual poultry deaths or symptoms to the Veterinary Service at ANRD on tel. 24724. 

Symptoms in chickens may include all or some of thefollowing:

o   Open mouth breathing

o   Coughing and sneezing

o   Discharge from the eyes and nostrils

o   Blackening of combs and wattles

o   Severe yellow and watery diarrhoea

o   Sudden egg drop, combined with paper-thin eggshells

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Newcastle Disease virus?

Newcastle Disease virus is a virus that can cause a deadly infection in many kinds of birds.  There are many different strains and not all are pathogenic.

  • What animals can contract Newcastle Disease?  

Both domestic and wild birds can be affected by Newcastle Disease (ND). Chickens are particularly susceptible. Turkeys, ducks, geese and pigeons are also known to be potentially affected.  ND in wild birds is rarely fatal and susceptibility is highly variable between different species of birds.

  • How can my poultry catch Newcastle Disease?

Newcastle Disease is spread by direct contact with the droppings, body fluids or respiratory discharges of infected birds. The virus can live for a long time in the environment and can also be spread by shoes, clothing, and equipment.

  • How does Newcastle Disease affect my poultry?

Newcastle Disease in birds can vary from no signs of illness to sudden death. Affected birds may have coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge and diarrhoea. Chicken flocks often show a sudden decrease in egg production or produce thin-shelled eggs.

  • Can humans catch Newcastle Disease?

Newcastle Disease is not considered a general public health threat. Infection in humans is very rare and very mild.

People regularly in direct contact with poultry should watch for signs of conjunctivitis (swelling and reddening of the tissues around the eyes). Poultry crews and laboratory workers are at the greatest risk of potential exposure to the virus.

Most medical authorities state that the disease poses no health risk to consumers of eggs or poultry meat. No human cases of Newcastle Disease have occurred from eating poultry products.

Chickens with the disease will be destroyed and will not enter the food chain, and the virus is destroyed by cooking.

  • How can I protect myself from Newcastle Disease?

When working directly with birds or poultry, especially when they are ill, wear gloves and safety glasses. Wash your hands after all contact. Avoid touching your eyes until your hands have been washed.

Please refer also to the preventative measures outlined in the above press release.


12 September 2014




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