Avian Pox and the risks it exposes to our wild and domestic birds

Cape Town 16.01.2019:  There have been reports of wild birds (pigeons and doves) being brought into local veterinary clinics for euthanasia due to their faces being deformed from a disease suspected to be the Avian Pox Virus.  Not only does it look very painful, but it is painful for the birds and it renders them unable to see, eat or defend themselves, leading to a prolonged and painful death. 

While we are very concerned for the birds' wellbeing, we are more concerned about the virus spreading to our pet birds and other avian wildlife that the Cape is blessed with.  We have reported the matter to the State Vet and await feedback on the outcome of an autopsy, as well as possible steps that can be taken should this be true.

Here are key facts and factors that need to be taken into consideration when a community, their pets, poultry and wildlife is exposed to this contagious and deadly virus.

What is the Avipoxvirus?

Avipoxvirus infect specifically birds and is an acute contagious infection; marked by the formation of a false membrane in the throat and other air passages causing difficulty in eating, breathing and often closing up the eye area.  These lesions develop on the mucous membranes of the mouth, oesophagus, pharynx, larynx, and trachea. The causative agent of avian poxvirus infection is any one of a number of species of viruses belonging to the avian poxvirus genus.

What causes avian pox?

Avian pox is a painful disease that affects both wild and domestic birds and poultry, with possible mortality if not vaccinated.  The virus is spread through mosquitoes’ cycles in warm and humid climates. Note that Cutaneous Poxvirus infection is rarely lethal on its own but due to its disfigurement, reduced vision and inability to feed - may result in death. The Diptheric form that infects the mucous membranes of the mouth and/or upper respiratory tract is more lethal but also much more rare.

Is there a Zoonotic risk for humans?

Avian poxviruses are not known to infect humans. This virus will produce only in avian species.

How long does avian pox last?

The virus course is about two weeks but can prolong in a flock for up to ten weeks. There are various types of avian pox viruses and they tend to be specific to particular species of birds.

How does avian pox spread?

Insects and flies may walk on the birds, leaving virus behind, and the penetrating mouth parts of biting insects (mosquito bites) can result in rapid spread.   Sharing of food and water sources can also lead to spreading the virus, by means of the birds being in close proximity of each other.

Can I protect my pet bird from getting the Avian Pox Virus?

Yes you are able to protect your bird by having them vaccinated against this virus at the vet.  Contact your vet prior to taking the bird in for vaccinations, as not all veterinary clinics stock this specific vaccine.  Keeping the aviaries clean with F10 SC Disinfectant is also very important.

How can I protect my wild bird population that visit my property from this virus?

There is very little you can do, but the best advice is to keep their water and food sources disease free.  Your local veterinary clinic or vet shop should stock F10 FC Disinfectant.  This product is harmless, ecologically friendly and biodegradable.  Wash the area out with F10 (do not mix with other chemicals) and keep the water fresh.

What is Avian Pox Vaccine?

Avian Pox Vaccine when used, will aid in preventing the clinical signs caused by the virulent field strains of pox virus.

What must I do if I find an infected bird?

We suggest that you take the bird to your local veterinary clinic to have them humanely euthanised.  Then contact the local state vet to have the bird collected and sent for an autopsy.  Should they find that there is a concern for the local birdlife, they will make known further arrangements to assist the spreading of the virus. Further studies are being done on the infection of Pox in pigeons, you can also Contact Olivia Carulei, who is currently doing further research in Cape Town on the matter.0218085253 Malcolm collects birds from the vet. (Cape Town)  /  0218870324 State Vet Stellenbosch - Dr Harris (Avian)

Is this a notice of the Avian Pox Virus Outbreak?

No.  Such a notice will come from the State vet and distributed via the necessary channels.  At the time of this article being published (16 January 2019), we wait for the State Vet in Stellenbosch to confirm if there is in fact an outbreak in the Cape by means of an autopsy.  Should this be the Avian Pox Virus, suggestions will be given of steps that need to be taken to assist communities in protecting their wild and domestic avian populations.  An update of this report will be published as soon as we get feedback from the State Vet.

In the mean time, we suggest that you have your pet birds vaccinated and have your bird baths and feeding stations disinfected regularly.


 

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