OMG I think it's Marek's - now what? (Long, lots of questions, sorry)

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by Momo, Jun 28, 2008.

  1. Momo

    Momo Songster

    Mar 16, 2008
    Nelson BC
    I'm a chicken newbie and very distressed because I'm 99% sure I have Marek's in my little flock. I got 30 EE chicks from a small breeder at Easter this year (I thought they were real Ameraucanas but they're not). At 4/5 weeks a couple of the pullets became suddenly weak with what looked like neurological problems; one of them had a weak neck and the other was unable to stand and just lay on her side for a couple of days. Thinking it was a vitamin deficiency (and maybe it was, but now I wonder), I treated with poly vi sol and they recovered quickly although one of them continued to walk sort of crouched down on her hocks for awhile.

    They are now 3 months old. One pullet has been "sleepy" for well over a month; she eats and drinks etc but tends to hang around with her eyes partially closed and neck feathers a little ruffled, and she makes odd little movements with her neck that look like a mild neurological impairment. She stays inside the house all day and never goes out. Sometimes she stands with her head in the corner. Now there's a second pullet hanging out with her and acting the same way.

    A month or so ago one of the cockerels became profoundly weak with what I now understand is the classic "Marek's" pose (one leg forward and one leg back). After a few days he was doing so poorly that we culled him and in my blissful ignorance I assumed it was an isolated incident. Two days ago, again between one day and the next, another cockerel came down with similar symptoms, although his legs are mostly kept in front of him (when he's not flopped over on his side). The first day he was able to get up and move around although he was very ataxic, but by the second day although his appetite remained good he was unable to walk. He's a favourite of mine and I was planning on keeping him but he requires hours of nursing each day to get enough fluids etc into him (he drinks eagerly from an eye dropper but won't drink from a water dish). This morning I have two more affected birds: one cockerel that just seems overly tired and is lying down a lot, and another with a paralyzed wing.

    I've been up half the night trying to find out what could be wrong with my birds (I was still thinking nutritional deficiency). I'd never heard of Marek's before and this is a real shock. I'm thinking I should just start culling all the symptomatic birds and send one off for a necropsy.

    The only place I can think of where they could have contracted the disease is from the breeder where I bought them. There were no chickens here before and the coop is new (still under construction). They were supposed to be day old chicks but due to hatching issues I received some that were a day old and some that were almost a week old, so perhaps the breeder's flock carries the virus and these chicks were exposed before they arrived?

    So now I have to figure out what to do next and I'm just sick about it. Some online sources say you should kill the entire flock, disinfect with Oxine, wait a few months (!!!) and start over again. If I were to cull the whole flock and start again next year (horrible thought; I really like my girls and have put countless hours and more money than expected into constructing their coop), would I be overreacting?

    Other folks say that it's just something you have to live with, that most if not all back yard flocks have been exposed to Mareks, and that over time the flock will be populated by individuals with more immunity. I understand that birds who get sick and recover will be carriers who continue to shed the virus for years, but what about the ones that don't show obvious symptoms? Surely they've been heavily exposed as well, so shouldn't I assume they're carriers too? I understand some people keep recovered Marek's chickens on purpose to make sure their flock is exposed in order to maintain a resistant flock, but wouldn't it make more sense to just keep the ones that don't get sick? Wouldn't they be the ones with the best resistance? Or is it less transmissible than that and would some individuals in a flock just not contract the virus in the first place? If I keep my flock (and I'm inclined to try), would it mean I can never have a hen raise a brood of chicks, that if I want chicks I'll have to incubate the eggs myself in order to vaccinate, that I can never visit someone with poultry unless I know their flock has been vaccinated, that I can never sell a chicken to anyone else?

    I know this is a lot of questions but I'm a little freaked out and could sure use some guidance from those with more experience...
  2. I wish I could help but a relative newbie myself. I will watch this post for others answers and I appreciate your posting. Many of us will learn something from this. Maybe the Mareks vaccination is a good idea after all.
  3. spook

    spook Songster

    Apr 21, 2008
    North Central Florida
    Quote:Momo, what a shame about the birds. I have no idea what I would do, horrible to be met with these issues of this virus. You are in my thoughts and I hope someone can give you the pros and cons of either sticking with the ones that live, and if you was to vaccinate any of your new chicks if they would be immune to this virus?

    I often wonder if "I" should get some of these vaccinations for my girls. I have hatched my own all the times I've had chickens and apparently been very fortunate.

    You are definately teaching us new folks how fragile our chicken children are. God Bless you.
  4. SpottedCrow

    SpottedCrow Flock Goddess

    I'm sorry for your losses.
    I just lost a bird to a suspected case of Marek's Disease. I got her at a show and had her for 2 years. My other bird came from a farm down the street and I don't know of any vaccinations that she might've had...
    I think Penny, the show bird, got it from Obelisk, who might've been a carrier...
    She went downhill with in the time frame of a week.
    On Tuesday, she couldn't get up in her chair, by the following Wed, she could move one wing and her head.
    Thankfully, a hawk took she didn't suffer any worse.

    Usually if you have a closed flock, everyone's been infected...
    I would cull the worst one, and take him/her for a necropsy. Separate the sick ones from the rest and give palliative care.
    I was giving Penny baby bird handfeeding formula, PolyVisol baby vitamins, and applesauce...from a spoon every hour...if you don't think that you could do this, the kindest thing would be to cull all the sick birds, but everyone has been exposed.
  5. Momo

    Momo Songster

    Mar 16, 2008
    Nelson BC
    Thanks for the replies. According to what I've been reading, vaccination for Marek's doesn't actually confer true immunity so although most vaccinated birds won't develop symptoms, they can still get Marek's and shed the virus as carriers of the disease, which is why many people consider the disease to be ubiquitous and endemic although many people are unaware that their flocks are infected.

    That said, if I were to cull all of my birds and start over next year with vaccinated chicks, how would I know that my next set of chickens didn't have Marek's as well? On the other hand, if I keep my girls then I wouldn't be able to sell or give away any birds unless they were going to a farm that was already infected. I really don't want to kill off my little flock, but I also don't want to be forced to kill any culls in the future rather than re-home them. It's a conundrum and I wish I could figure out what to do ...
  6. onthespot

    onthespot Deluxe Dozens

    Mar 29, 2008
    Riverside/Norco, CA
    You could just disclose to buyers that your flock (assuming there are survivors) has been exposed to Mareks, vaccinated for Marek's, whatever you decide to do, and is a resistant strain with possible carriers. There might be someone looking for exactly what you have. I learned a long time ago not to decide ahead of time what someone I never met might want or need in an animal. One man's trash is another man's treasure. If you get no takers and find yourself cornered after taking that course, I'd maybe cull then...
  7. SpottedCrow

    SpottedCrow Flock Goddess

    If you've seen the commercials on the boob tube for something that's supposed to take care of you during a genital herpes's the same deal...even if your birds don't look or act sick they still have it...

    It is a heckuva puzzle...Hugs to you.
  8. jaybme

    jaybme Songster

    Momo, I am wondering if I should vaccinate, and came upon your post. Can I ask where you got your excellent information?

    I hope you did not have to cull all. I was thinking that perhaps it is like Parvo for dogs- once an area has it, all animals must be vaccinated for it.

    An article I read about this said Mareks drifts around all the time, on birds, in dust, on shoes, and it is only a matter of time before each flock gets it.

    What did you find out about it? WIll you vaccinate next year?

    Thanks, Jaybme
  9. sammi

    sammi Songster

    Dec 21, 2007
    Southeast USA
    what a sorry for your troubles.

    if you haven't culled..why not try the vitamin route? you did say they seemed to perk up for a bit.
    get some chick vitamins for the water,(along with the Poly-vi-sol by giving drops on beak)..give extra protein (eggs)..
    or you can try making up a mixture of chick feed, a little water cooked oatmeal, plain yogurt, cooked chopped egg yolk..make crumbly, not soupy..
    wouldn't hurt, might help.

    also..I'd consider getting new's possible you got an old bag, or a bad mix...

    hope things get better for you and the chicks.

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