Help! What do I do? 3-4 wk. old Silkie chick w/Possible/probable Marek's Disease!

Asked April 8, 2019, 6:46 PM EDT

I am an experienced small-flock poultry owner. I have chickens, heritage geese, heritage turkeys, and India Blue Peafowl. I am aware of and promote bio-safe practices. I am aware of multiple illnesses, & diseases within all species of birds that we keep on our Small Sustainable farm.

Recently someone gave me, (as a gift) 6 Blue Silkie chicks and 3 assorted bantams, (I suspect 2 Old English and 1 Mille Fleur.) These chicks came from Tractor Supply, (Middlebury). I have not been able to get a definitive yes or no from them as to whether or not they vaccinate for Marek's Disease.

Yesterday one of the Silkies started exhibiting abnormal neurological type behaviors that are very similar to chicks infected with Marek's disease. I do know that Silkies are prone to Marek's, and the chicks have been separated, (By building) from my adult birds. I do know of the 4- most common types of Marek's, and that the virus is in the Herpes species, and highly contagious. I know that the other chicks don't have to show signs to be infected, and that symptoms often don't show up until the chicks are much older. And I have tried several things to help this chick out- based on potential "remedies", e.g. Local honey in water, electrolytes in water, Vitamin preparations administered orally to individual birds, etc. In Addition: Other than the neurological symptoms the bird appears to be fine, e.g. excrement is normal, eating and drinking normally (Non-medicated chick Starter-grower, (Purina.)

My major concern is protecting my existing adult birds, and I have 20 Heritage Turkeys due to hatch on Weds-Friday of this week. SHould I have the chicks destroyed? Should a necropsy be performed to give an accurate diagnosis? If they need to be destroyed do I have to bring them to my veterinarian? I am very thankful to you and the Extension Service volunteers for your answers and suggestions! Kris. You are most welcome to make this email public, just PLEASE DO NOT include email.

Addison County Vermont

1 Response

In your duplicate question, you referenced an article related to Marek's vaccines. I sent the article to a poultry veterinarian. This was his response:

The article sensationalizes a phenomenon that is potentially inherent in attempting to immunize against a variety of viruses; however, most of them are RNA viruses like influenza. We deal with this problem every year by CDC “predicting” what subtypes and strains of Type A influenza virus to include in this year’s human vaccine. Sometimes during the course of the year the prevalent virus mutates enough so as to limit protection from the vaccine du jour. In veterinary medicine we are always concerned with this problem with low path H5 and H7 viruses mutating to high path.

Yes, just like conventional AI vaccines, Marek’s disease (MD) vaccines allow viruses to continue to spread from bird to bird. The fact is there is less clinical MD in commercial poultry operations now than in the past. Proper vaccination at the hatchery is very helpful in limiting clinical disease in the field.

There is a vaccine available for vaccinating chickens at home, but the problem is that MD virus is basically everywhere where chickens are or have been kept, and once the “wild-type” viruses infect the bird, vaccine efficacy is limited. Also, there are herpesviruses that infect both chickens and turkeys, but they are different. In fact, the turkey herpesvirus (HVT) has been used for years as an MD vaccine in chickens because it has minimal pathogenic effects in chickens yet helps protect them from MD clinical signs.

I suppose what the article says might be theoretically true, but so is the probability of getting struck by lightning today.

Chicken owners’ best defense is to assure that they purchase chicks from reputable hatcheries that vaccinate their birds immediately after hatch with the best MD vaccine available.

With any disease outbreak, it is always important to have a necropsy performed to confirm a diagnosis.

With the introduction of any new birds to an existing flock, it is important to place the new birds in a quarantine period first - typically 2-3 weeks.

If you decide to euthanize you can use cervical dislocation. It is rare to find a veterinarian that will euthanize poultry, but if you feel you are unable to do so, you can give it a try to find one.