Marek’s Disease

Chicken showing signs of Marek’s

Marek’s Disease is an extremely contagious viral disease in chickens. It is caused by a Herpes virus which can survive for long periods of time in the environment. It is thought that in feather dust it can survive on a farm for at least 12 months and it is this problem which leads to it being so common . Mareks is spread through airborne feather dander so microscopic that it can spread from one farm to another via the wind, even when no human or bird contact is made between the two farms. The virus enters through the bird’s respiratory tract. Different viruses can cause this disease. The most common one is visceral and affects the eye nerves of chickens. The virus infects the young birds as early as 1 day old.

Symptoms of Mereks Disease

Limb paralysis is a common symptom of Marek’s Disease, and most commonly effects the legs, wings, or neck. The outcome is fatal with chickens usually dying from starvation, as they are unable to acquire water and food.

Another symptom of this disease is dropped wings and skin around feather follicles maybe raised and roughened. Infected birds eyes may haveĀ  irregularly shaped pupils, light-sensitivity, and grey cloudy eyes. A chicken with Merek’s often ‘wastes away’ very quickly.

marek's eyes

There is no cure for Mereks and Since it is so difficult to control your birds’ exposure to the disease, (showing, bringing in new birds, airborne spread from other farms), the best course is prevention. That starts with completely sanitizing your brooders. An inborn immunity called ‘age resistance’ automatically develops in the chicks within five months of their birth. Hence, it is imperative that the chicks are raised away from the affected chickens. Some older chickens that still survive after being infected with Marek’s Disease can remain carriers. Chickens from other flocks might also bring the disease with them. Birds generally get affected between the age of five to twenty-five weeks. However, the disease might affect chickens even after the age of twenty-five weeks if the birds have been under considerable stress.

Although the disease is very contagious, transmission to the eggs does not take place directly.

Day old chick being given the vaccine for Marek's

Day old chick being given the vaccine for Marek’s

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