Ficus Exasperata and the Newcastle Disease Virus
- Once a bird contracts Newcastle virus, it can spread the disease far and wide as it goes about daily activities. Introduced into an environment with many birds, the virus quickly spreads among the population. Even if birds die, the virus remains active for up to a week, and is potentially transferable to other birds. In poultry coops or production barns, Newcastle virus is spread with contact of bird droppings and feathers. Any insects or animals that come in contact with these materials can spread the virus. Humans who do not disinfect their tools or boots also can expose nearby birds to the deadly virus. There is no treatment for birds once they contract it.
- Keeping an aviary or habitat clean of droppings and feathers diminishes the risk of spread of Newcastle disease virus. Sanitation is a simple way for poor farmers to prevent mass disease outbreaks. The goal is to avoid introducing the pathogen to an area; the United States has strict bird quarantines in place to prevent illegal bird importation and smuggling that could introduce the virus into the United States. In parts of Africa and Asia, the local subsistence farmer has little defense or control once the Newcastle disease virus appears. While cash-limited governmental entities can't restrict movement of birds or regulate facility sanitation as compared to industrialized nations, Third World nations employ low-cost, grassroot-level approaches to bring disease under control. Clean aviary facilities significantly diminish pathogen threats.
- Native to tropical equatorial Africa, the southern Arabian peninsula and southern India, the forest sandpaper fig, or Ficus exasperata, grows wild. In West Africa, the leather, rough-textured leaves of this tree are used in sanitation of chicken coops to help prevent Newcastle disease virus. The leaves are used as bedding; for unknown reasons, bird mites and lice are attracted to the foliage and abandon the birds. The fig leaf bedding is removed and replaced daily, removing the potentially disease-carrying bugs. Farmers then destroy the dirty bedding.
- The precise reasons that Ficus exasperate leaves attract fleas and lice from birds aren't yet understood. The pest-attracting characteristics may be because the release of chemical pheromones, fragrant oils or latex in the foliage allures the critters or because texture of the coarse foliage provides a more comfortable or preferred temporary habitat. While the fig leaves do not kill the Newcastle disease virus or prevent it from being introduced into bird populations, it does provide an inexpensive method for improved poultry farm sanitation in the low-income tropical parts of sub-Saharan Africa and India.