Old World Aviaries

Ongoing research in avian diseases at the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center and Texas A&M University

Investigators: Lynn Cassone, Robert Moore, David N. Phalen, Karen Russell, Darrel Styles, Ian Tizard, Karen Snowden, Elizabeth Tomaszewski, William Wigle

Pacheco's disease virus and related herpesviruses

What is the significance of this work?

Pacheco's disease (PD) is a disease caused by a herpesvirus that has impacted captive parrot populations since the 1970's. Single outbreaks of this disease have killed hundreds of birds. While this catastrophic level of mortality is unusual, valuable breeding birds and beloved pets continue to die from this disease every year. It has long been suspected that some parrots are carriers of this virus, but which species were most likely to the carry this disease was not known and an assay capable of detecting these birds was not available. Having an assay that is able to detect carrier birds would allow these birds to be isolated away from other birds that are susceptible to infection.

Our objectives

Accomplishments to date

We have purified and sequenced portions of the Pacheco's disease virus. From this we have helped to develop and validate a test that can detect these disease-causing viruses.

Internal papillomatosis

What is the significance of this work?

Internal papillomatosis is still a fairly common disease of Amazon parrots, macaws, and conures. It causes wart-like growths of the oral cavity and vent. This is a chronic disease. While it does not kill the bird right away, this disease causes the bird considerable discomfort and eventually can lead to death. There is also an unexpectedly high incidence of cancer of the liver and pancreas in these birds. Clinical evidence strongly suggests that this is an infectious disease.

Our objectives

Accomplishments to date

Our work has shown that one or more herpesviruses are commonly found in papillomas. We are currently determining if a specific herpesvirus is associated with this disease.

Megabacteria

What is the significance of this work?

The so-called megabacteria agent has been implicated as a cause of disease in budgerigars, parrotlets, poultry, and ostriches. This organism has also been found in many species of birds. While strong clinical evidence suggests that megabacteria causes disease, it is also clear that many, perhaps most, birds infected with this organism are just fine and never develop disease. Treatment of this organism is expensive, hard on the birds, and often ineffective.

Our objectives

Progress to date

Avian tuberculosis

What is the significance of this work?

Avian tuberculosis is an uncommon, but ever-present, threat to cage birds. It has been a particularly difficult disease to recognize in early and even advanced stages of infection. It has taken a severe toll on grey-cheeked parakeets and the red siskin. It has also been a serious problem for zoo collections and captive breeding programs of endangered species of birds. A diagnostic assay or assays that could detect infected birds before the onset of clinical signs would be of great value in controlling this disease.

Our objectives

Progress to date

Avian polyomavirus

Significance of this work

There are few bird owners who have not heard about this virus or been directly impacted by it. This virus routinely kills nestling parrots, particularly macaws, conures, and Eclectus parrots. Investigators at Texas A&M have a long history in studying this virus. The dynamics of this viral infection in budgerigar aviaries has been investigated here. We have also verified the suggestion that older experienced budgerigars that were previously infected with APV can be used for breeding and produce APV-free young. We have shown that the virus infecting budgerigars is the same as virus that infects other species of parrots. We have shown that the kidney disease caused by this virus is the result of immune complexes, information that some day may provide an insight into preventative treatment of this infection. We have also done the only definitive study to show the dynamics of this viral infection in parrot nurseries. We have shown that this virus spreads rapidly between birds, so that often by the time of the first birds death, most if not all, in-contact chicks are infected. This same study showed it is necessary to test both blood and oral swabs combined with cloacal swabs to detect all birds shedding virus. Our work also showed the expected duration of virus shedding in recently infected nestling and adult birds.

Our objectives and progress to date

Great-billed Parrots

Significance of this research

Although rare in aviculture, this parrot is facing the possibility of extinction in the wild. It has been the impression of great-billed owners that birds kept outside in the south are at high risk for a disease and death from an as yet undetermined cause.

Our objectives

Progress to date

Conservation

The Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center funds several other projects that relate to wildlife and conservation. For more information on these projects please check the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center's web site. The Schubot Center

Where do we need the most help?

In order to continue this diverse and aggressive program into issues that significantly impact aviculturalists and pet bird owners, we will need continued support from the bird-owning public. The three projects that we particularly need support for are the herpesvirus, internal papillomatosis, and megabacteria work.

We can assure you that this money will be used to leverage other funds and will be used frugally to give the donor the biggest possible bang for the buck.

Thanks!!!

To the many of you who have already donated money to our program or helped to raise money for our program, we are greatly appreciative.

Sincerely,

Dr. David N. Phalen.


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