US battles poultry sickness rivalling bird flu

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

Marek's Disease causes tumours in poultry
Marek's Disease causes tumours in poultry

Related tags Influenza Influenza vaccine Poultry

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is “actively working” to improve prevention of Marek’s Disease, a virus which causes tumours and death in poultry. 

In the wake of the avian flu crisis in the US, which has killed 48m birds, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has revealed to Global Meat News that it is working on an “extensive”​ Marek disease programme with scientists working to further improve prevention and control methods.

US show PBS Newshour recently reported that it could decimate poultry stocks in a matter of days. It claimed that the disease is “more deadly”​ than avian flu.

However Dr Aly Fadly, supervisory veterinary medical officer, USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Avian Disease & Oncology Lab, has responded.

'Economically significant'

He told Global Meat News:  “Marek’s disease is an economically significant disease that causes tumours in poultry and it is not a deadlier disease than highly pathogenic avian influenza.”​  

He admitted that the virus is endemic in most parts of the world. However, the disease incidence is extremely low due to current control methods, including vaccination, he said.

“Although the disease is currently under control in most parts of the world, USDA’s ARS has previously reported shifts in Marek’s disease virus virulence over time due to multiple causes.”

USDA’s ARS said it has had success in understanding the basic biology and control of the Marek’s disease virus. The scientists are currently working on identifying host and genetic factors that control pathogenicity, transmission and evolution of the virus.

Effective vaccine

The plan is to develop an effective vaccine platform that protects against emerging Marek’s disease virus strains. 

However, Fadly said: “Current vaccines are highly effective against Marek’s disease. ARS has major research efforts underway focused on developing improved vaccines and other sustainable vaccine alternatives (e.g., genetic resistance).”

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