Avian Pox Virus

Why we are interested in Avian Pox Virus

Worldwide in distribution, Avian pox virus has been reported in approximately 60 free-living bird species representing about 20 bird families. The disease is characterized by two main forms. The most common is referred to as the “cutaneous form” which is characterized by wart-like lesions in unfeathered parts. This form of the disease may not be immediately fatal to birds; it has been shown to predispose affected wild birds to predation, secondary infections, trauma and reduction in reproductive success.

The second form, is referred to as “internal or diphtheritic form”, which is characterized by sores in the upper digestive and respiratory tract. It is highly deadly in domestic chickens and turkeys. There are few reports in free ranging birds because they are difficult to find when they are sick. Infection can be spread by direct contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces (such as hummingbird feeders!), by contaminated food or water and perhaps most commonly biting insects such as mosquitoes and flies.

Susceptibility among bird species varies. For example, when avian pox virus has been introduced in island ecosystems, results have been disastrous: it has been correlated with decline of several native bird species in Hawaii. Identification and characterization of the cause of pox-like lesions is a vital starting point for birds that show signs similar to pox. Other diseases can also display similar signs and symptoms to pox, so accurate diagnosis is important.

Pictures of hummingbirds with pox-like lesions.

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Contact: Holly Ernest