CORVALLIS - An Oregon State University professor with a specialty in chicken diseases has diagnosed the first case of the "chicken cold" in Oregon.

Masakazu Matsumoto, a professor in OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine who conducts research through the university's Agricultural Experiment Station, has diagnosed the first known Oregon case of a disease called infectious coryza.

The disease mimics a human cold, infecting the chicken's upper respiratory tract. Its inflamed sinuses cause its face to swell up and makes breathing difficult. The disease can spread quickly through a commercial chicken operation.

Although it runs its course in a few days, the sick chicken's egg production can fall by 50 percent during its illness, cutting profits, experts say.

The disease is common in warm-weather climates such as California and Central America, where insects are suspected of carrying the disease. But until now, Oregon's cooler climate has prevented the fragile bacteria from surviving this far north.

Or so Matsumoto thought until a woman from Eugene brought in a sick chicken to Dr. Stanley Snyder at OSU's veterinary diagnostic laboratory in September.

Matsumoto developed the first vaccines against infectious coryza in the 1960s. He immediately recognized the disease in the Eugene chicken.

Now he is asking backyard chicken growers to be on the alert for the disease in hopes of keeping it out of Oregon's $50 million-a year egg production industry.

It costs only about 5 cents per chicken to vaccinate chickens against the disease, but the vaccine must be administered by injection. The labor costs of catching and injecting 120,000 chickens in a commercial growing operation adds up, Matsumoto said. The cost can make the difference between profit and loss in a marginal operation.

"Our hope is that they (the owners of backyard chickens) can cooperate with our research and detection efforts," Matsumoto said. "The major point is education."

Matsumoto urged owners of chickens to buy only vaccinated or disease-free stock from a reliable dealer. And if they do observe the disease, he hopes they will call him at 541-737-2901.

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Masakazu Matsumoto 541,737-2901