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NJDA Urges Pigeon Fanciers to Avoid Races During Encephalitis Season
For Immediate Release: October 14, 1999 Contact:

Hope Gruzlovic


On October 12, 1999, Dr. Ernest Zirkle, DVM, Director, Division of Animal Health, New Jersey Department of Agriculture, issued the following notice to all pigeon fanciers in New Jersey: Recently, a few pigeon fanciers reported unusual behavior in their birds as well as some unexplained losses. This led to an investigation by the Division of Animal Health and the subsequent identification by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the West Nile-like virus in a racing pigeon from a flock in Middlesex County. Testing of additional birds continues. Therefore, we are urging you NOT to participate in pigeon racing outside of NJ until after the first killing frost. We hope that this cautious measure will prevent further transmission of the virus to and from your birds. As you are probably aware, the CDC has reported an outbreak of the West Nile-like virus in New York, which has made a number of New York residents sick. The virus was first isolated and identified by the CDC in late September in birds that died in and around New York City. The virus has since been isolated from a number of dead crows and other birds, including 34 crows and one pigeon from NJ. Crows in Hunterdon, Morris, Essex, Bergen, Middlesex and Union Counties have also tested positive while two birds from Mercer County tested negative for the virus. The virus is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. Ticks which may infest your birds are probably capable of transmitting the virus as well. Birds, therefore, play a significant role in the life cycle of this virus. Any methods you can use to decrease the exposure of your birds to mosquitoes is recommended. If you have observed unexplained behavior or death in your birds, please contact us so that we may assist you in determining the cause, and help eliminate future losses. The West Nile-like virus generally causes a milder disease than other encephalitis viruses in humans. It is unlikely that the virus can be transmitted from birds to humans during routine handling, but we recommend that you wear gloves for routine procedures. We appreciate your cooperation in the matter. Ernest W. Zirkle, D.V.M.
Phone: (609) 292-3965
Fax: (609) 777-8395