Avian Pox Virus
Avian pox can be caused by several strains of the Pox virus and has been reported in at least 60 species of birds, including blackbirds, turkeys, hawks, eagles, owls, albatrosses, and sparrows.
There is no evidence that the avian pox virus can infect humans; however, this highly contagious virus can result high numbers of casualties in wild populations.
There are two forms of Avian Pox:
- In the more common cutaneous (dry) form, wart-like growths appear on the featherless areas of the body such as around the eye, the base of the beak, and on the legs and feet.
- Self-limiting infection with lesions eventually regressing; the scab fall off and scars form at the site. This process usually takes 2 to 4 weeks for complete healing of the affected areas (providing the lesions aren't so extensive that they prevent the bird from feeding)
- In the second diphtheritic (wet) form, plaques develop on the mucous membrane of the mouth, throat, trachea, and lungs, resulting in impaired breathing and difficulty in feeding.
Secondary infections often develop, which ultimately lead to an infected bird's death.
Mosquitoes: Transmission occurs when mosquitos feed on birds that with lesion present. Mosquitoes can harbor and transmit the virus for a month or longer after feeding on infected birds. Other insects, such as stable flies have also shown the capability of transmitting the pox virus.
Infected Birds: The Avian Pox virus can be spread by direct contact with infected birds.
Contaminated surfaces or water / food: One of the primary sources of infections are contaminated bird feeding stations; or contaminated food / water. Bird baths / feeding stations need to be regularly disinfected with a 5% chlorine bleach solution.
Mosquitoes are most likely the cause of transmission within local areas, while wild birds are responsible for outbreaks over greater distances.
Recognizing Avian Pox
Avian pox is characterized by wart-like growths on the featherless areas of the body such as around the eye, the base of the beak, and on the legs and feet. Avian pox can be mistaken for conjunctivitis when the eyes are affected. "Growths" on the eye are typically from avian pox.
Control / Treatment
- capturing, isolating and treating; or culling (killing) diseased birds
- eliminating standing water thus reducing the mosquito population
- feeders, waterers and birdbaths need to be decontaminated with a 10% bleach solution.
- isolating / quarantining birds
- providing supportive care
- removing the skin lesions by utilizing sodium bicarbonate or Lugol's solution of iodine washes as follows:
- remove the diphtheritic membrane from the mouth and throatswab the area with Lugol's solution of iodinebath the eyes with a 1-2% saline solutionsanitize the area with a 10% bleach solution and raise the environmental temperaturevaccinate all birds (typically done with a modified live vaccine)
Reporting Avian Pox
Paula Slota (Retired/Volunteer - USGS Natioanl Wildlif Health Center) recommends to report sightings of birds that might be infected with Avian Pox to your respective state conservation agencies so that they are aware of the outbreaks occurring in your state. At the same time, please copy the new USGS National Wildlife Health Center Epidemiology Team at NWHCfirstname.lastname@example.org so that they continue to receive these reports. Also included is a link to the chapter in our Diseases of Wildlife (birds) Manual that discusses avian pox.
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Information contained on this website is provided as general reference only. For application to specific circumstances, professional advice should be sought.
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