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Backyard Chicken Craze Sparks Rise in Rare Disease

METAIRIE, La. (WGNO) – A lot of people these days have broaden the backyard and taken up raising chickens. But novice or negligent owners are causing a once thought-to-be extinct disease affecting chickens to creep back into the New Orleans area.

Marek’s disease is a highly contagious virus that’s spread by the chicken’s own dander and dirt.

Dr. Gregory Rich with West Esplanade Veterinary Clinic and Bird Hospital in Metarie said he hadn’t seen a single case of Marek’s disease for nearly 30 years, but in the last 6 months he’s seen six.

If a chicken becomes infected by Marek’s disease Dr. Rich said they can’t move, “they can’t walk. In some cases their legs are just out to the side like an airplane wing.”

The chicken’s abdomen also may become swollen making it seem like the chicken is about to lay an egg, but never does.

Dr. Rich said there is no cure for the disease, but a simple vaccine while chickens are still young can prevent them from catching it.

His warning to people thinking about raising chicken, “buy Marek’s vaccinated chickens if you are going to the feed store or to the breeder.”