Marek’s disease is one of the most common illnesses that afflict backyard flocks. It’s preventable, but not curable. Once a chicken has Marek’s disease, mortality can be anywhere from days to months after you spot the symptoms.
Marek’s is a complicated virus, there is no set answer as to how long you can expect a chicken to live once you’re sure they are infected.
The disease itself can be present in the environment for years living in the dander. Some infected birds will show very few symptoms, while others’ health will deteriorate rapidly.
The bottom line is that unfortunately, it’s not curable. Once you know Marek’s disease is within your flock, you have to remove the infected birds and start vaccinating the other chickens.
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What Is Marek’s Disease?
Marek’s disease is one of the most common and widespread diseases that affect poultry around the world. It was named by the first person to report it back in 1907, Jozsef Marek.
It’s a highly contagious viral disease, with the scientific name of Alphaherpesvirinae. Basically, it's a form of herpes that infects some of a chicken's white blood cells, turning them cancerous.
It spreads throughout an infected chicken's body and often manifests in tumors and peripheral nerve enlargement.
Marek’s disease is more common in younger birds, typically around the age of 10 to 30 weeks. But it can affect chickens of any age.
How Quickly Does Marek’s Disease Progress?
The disease can spread incredibly quickly among the flock as it's transmitted through both direct and indirect contact between chickens.
There is no stock answer as to how quickly the disease will progress as it affects each bird differently. The problem is that once your chickens are becoming infected, there is no way to cure them.
Something to note is that the virus actually replicates in a chicken's feathers follicles and contaminates their living environment.
This is how a lot of owners have a second outbreak after they've moved all of their flock but didn't properly fumigate/clean the area.
Prevention is certainly the best cure for this disease. To prevent it, you can vaccinate your chicks after they're born and before introducing them to any older Birds.
You should also practice good biosecurity in your coops. Things like having a spare pair of shoes to use inside a coop, changing clothes, making sure rodents and pests are kept to a minimum, etc, all help minimize the risk of transferring diseases.
Can Chickens Recover From Marek’s Disease?
No, unfortunately, chickens will not recover from Marek’s disease and there is no effective treatment available.
If you have infected chickens, I feel for you. You're going to have to separate them from the rest of the flock and humanely kill them.
You can take action and vaccinate the rest of your flock if there are no visible signs your other birds have the disease. You'll then have to monitor them closely for any symptoms in the coming days.
I would also consult with an avian or poultry vet if you have one local to where you live. It’s a serious disease, and it’s worthwhile getting a professional opinion on what your best course of action is.
Related - Why is my chicken laying down all the time?
What Are the Symptoms of Marek’s Disease?
Identifying the symptoms of Marek’s Disease early can have a huge impact on the health of the rest of your flock.
Simply put; if you spot the signs early enough, there's a good chance you will be able to save some of your chickens.
A few of the most common and easy to spot symptoms include:
- Tumors and growths appearing around the feather follicles
- Irregular pupils and compromised vision
- Dramatic weight loss and becoming emaciated
- Paralysis or obvious signs that their legs and wings are causing distress
It's not always easy to identify Marek’s Disease, and some of these symptoms may be related to other health issues.
Therefore, it's always best if you immediately isolate any chickens displaying any symptoms of ill health to reduce the risk of a disease spreading.
Can You Eat a Chicken With Marek’s Disease?
According to a publication from Mississippi state university, Marek's disease does not pose a risk to humans or other mammals in any form.
The report states that it is perfectly safe to eat eggs and meat from an infected chicken. Although, the skin tumors can be very unsightly and off-putting, to say the least.
Related - How to use Poly-Vi-Sol for chickens.
If you raise backyard chickens for any length of time and are involved in the community, unfortunately, you will hear about Marek’s disease from time to time.
A lot of hatcheries will vaccinate chicks against the disease, or will it least offer it as an option. Now you're aware of what this disease is, it's something to discuss when buying new chicks.
If you already have a flock and you're concerned about it, again it's something you can discuss with an avian vet and proactively vaccinate your flock if you feel the need.
If you spot the symptoms of Marek’s disease, I know how upsetting it can be.
All I can suggest is that you keep a clear head, isolate any chickens you can see with symptoms, and then vaccinate your flock.
Image credits - Photo by Monika Kubala on Unsplash
Marek’s Disease in Backyard Chickens - extension.msstate.edu