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Valley Hatchery LLC

Marek’s Disease and Vaccination

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Mareks disease is a viral infection that can affect both commercial and backyard poultry flocks. The virus is highly contagious and can cause significant losses in infected flocks. While there is no cure for Marek’s disease, there are some measures you can take to protect your flock from the virus. This article will summarize Marek’s disease, including how it can be prevented and what to know about the disease.


Marek’s disease, also known as fowl paralysis, is a very common disease of poultry caused by a form of the herpes virus. Marek’s can be confusing to research, since a virus causes it but it can result in tumors and other serious health issues. A baby chick can be exposed to the disease and then be asymptomatic, or have serious problems within weeks.

If you wonder how Marek’s can be both a virus and a cancer, you wouldn’t be alone. It is technically an oncogenic alphaherpesvirus that causes dangerous T-cell lymphomas. Herpes viruses are complex ones. In humans they cause chicken pox, mononucleosis and shingles, but they can also cause certain forms of cancers. They are complex in birds as well. All chickens are susceptible to this, from small backyard flocks to large commercial flocks. It can be a cause of major health problems in a flock and can lead to death. Marek’s disease poses no risk to humans or other mammals.

Marek’s Disease Symptoms

Birds with Marek’s can present with different symptoms and conditions such as loss of appetite, failure to thrive, depression, weight loss, gastrointestinal upset, partial paralysis and a compromised immune system. It is also possible for a bird to show few outward signs of the disease but to die suddenly. Marek’s can cause tumors in the eyes, organs and skin. It causes changes in the nervous system, which are often fatal. All chickens can get Marek’s Disease. Young chicks and baby poultry can even be more susceptible to Marek’s. It can infect them at the moment of hatching if they are exposed.

Vaccination Choices

At Valley Hatchery, we offer vaccination for baby chickens, excluding Cornish cross chicks. We only offer this vaccine for baby chicks, not for ducksGuineasTurkeys or Cornish cross chicks. We currently use an HVT/IBD/RISPENS vaccine. Vaccinating your chickens against Marek’s disease is an effective way of preventing them from getting sick, but it is not a guarantee that they won’t still contract the illness.

Whether to get the vaccine is a question you need to answer based on your own research. However, if your property has had Marek’s on it in past, then there are high risks involved. The vaccination is the only way to protect your flock from this risk of Marek’s infection.

Disease is always a risk when working with baby chicks, but by being aware of the factors that can lead to infection and taking steps to protect your birds, you can minimize the risks. The Marek’s disease vaccine is the best way to help prevent this type of high-risk infection in your flock. Still, it is ultimately up to each chicken owner whether they choose to vaccinate at all. Thanks for following along on our journey from egg to adult bird!



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