Symptoms Transmission and Testing for Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, PBFD

Bird Health Care

Two-year-old Sulphur-crested Cockatoo named StormyPsittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) is a devastating viral disease that has first been noticed in cockatoos, but has since been diagnosed in many species of birds, specifically in African Greys, budgies, cockatoos, Eclectus parrots, lovebirds, macaws, and Rosellas.


Symptoms / Disease Progression

PBFD should be considered in any psitticine bird that displays progressive feather loss or abnormal feathers.

Young birds are most susceptible and are affected by an acute form of PBFD. This occurs during their first feather formation after replacement of down feathers. The developing feathers often fracture, bleed or fall out. Young birds may die following a short period of anorexia (loss of appetite), depression and diarrhea, with very little feather abnormality.

Older birds are thought to develop a chronic form in which dystrophic feathers stop growing shortly after emerging from the follicles. The feathers become increasingly abnormal with each successive molt. Contour feathers are usually affected early, while primary feathers are affected later in the disease. Contour feathers often are lost over most of the body. New feathers may have retained feather sheaths, blood within the shafts, are curled and deformed, or are short and clubbed. The beak may also be involved in the disease process. It may changed from a dull black to a glossy appearance. It may grow abnormally long and develop splits and cracks which break and peel. Bacteria and fungi often invade the abnormal beak, causing further destruction and necrosis (death) of the tissues. It often becomes difficult for the bird to eat because the beaks becomes very painful.

The disease is considered to be fatal. Some birds die shortly after showing signs of PBFD while others live months to years. Death usually occurs as a result of a secondary infection - bacterial, viral or fungal, since this disease attacks the immune system and makes the bird an "immunological cripple."


Transmission:

PBFD is spread by inhalation or ingestion of virus particles. Feather dust has been found to contain a large amount of virus. The virus has also been found in crop secretions and in fecal material. The virus may also be ingested as a result of preening. The incubation period of variable among species and the age at which the bird is exposed. Again, neonates and young birds are most susceptible, while adult birds over two years of age are thought to be at less risk.

It is possible for a bird to undergo a transient subclinical infection. This means that the bird's immune system is able to eliminate the virus. This is why it is recommended that a normal appearing bird who tests positive be retested 90 days later. If the bird has eliminated the virus it will test negative. If it remains positive, it should be considered latently infected and should be expected to break out with clinical disease in the future.

This is considered a fatal disease, and there is no cure, or treatment known.

A pet bird with PBFD can live a long life, if it is in a stress-free environment. It would never have contact with other birds since it is capable of spreading the virus.


Diagnosis

Whole, anticoagulated blood should be submitted from a bird without feather abnormalities, while both blood and several abnormal feathers should be submitted from a clinically abnormal bird. A test was developed by Dr. Brandon Ritchie, and is run by Avian Research Associates Laboratory. A DNA probe detects a portion of the PBFD viral nucleic acid.

Typical sample material:

  • 1-2 freshly plucked feathers from the birds chest or tail (no discarded feathers or downs)
  • 1-2 drops of EDTA whole blood

A test was developed by Dr. Brandon Ritchie, and is run by Avian Research Associates Laboratory.

(Info added by Avianweb: There is another comprehensive testing package offered by Avian Biotech. Here is the info: http://www.avianbiotech.com/Pricing.htm - includes testing for DNA Sexing, PBFD, Polyoma, Chlamydia, Avian Herpes / Pacheco's)

Interpreting the Results of the Psittacine Beak and Feather DNA probe test.

  • A. If Bird Has Dystrophic, Necrotic Feathers and you Test Blood for PBFD Virus using DNA probes:*

    • 1. If Positive: Suggests Active Infection

      Management: : If bird is from a breeding aviary: Bird should be removed and all areas that could be contaminated with feather dust from the infected bird should be repeatedly cleaned. If companion bird: Bird should not be exposed to other birds outside of the household and you should be aware that the virus can be transported to other locations on your clothes or in your hair. Be courteous of other birds and do not expose them. It should be noted that, occasionally, some PBFD infected Psittaciformes of South American descent have spontaneously recovered from the disease.

    • 2. If Negative: A feather biopsy (including the feather follicle) should be submitted for histopathologic examination.
  • B. If Bird's Feathers are Normal and you Test Blood for PBFD Virus using DNA probes:*

    • 1. If Positive: Indicates that the bird has been exposed to PBFD virus and that the virus is present in the blood. The bird must be retested in 90 days. If the bird is negative when retested, it indicates that the virus was not detected in the blood cells. If the bird is still positive, it indicates that the bird is either clinically infected or that the bird is being repeatedly exposed to the virus. It should be noted that most birds that are exposed to the PBFD virus develop a transient viremia followed by an appropriate immune response that results in the bird clearing the infection.

    • 2. If Negative: Indicates that PBFD virus was not detected in the blood.
*Testing available from:
INFECTIOUS DISEASES LABORATORY DEPARTMENT OF MEDICAL MICROBIOLOGYCOLLEGE OF VETERINARY MEDICINEUNIVERSITY OF GEORGIAATHENS, GA 30602-7386
Phone: 706-542-5812 FAX: 706-542-5233

** Please feel free to duplicate and distribute.

Branson W. Ritchie, D.V.M., Ph.D.
College of Veterinary Medicine
Small Animal Dept.
Athens, GA 30602

It is possible for a bird to undergo a transient subclinical infection. This means that the bird's immune system is able to eliminate the virus. This is why it is recommended that a normal appearing bird who tests positive be retested 90 days later. If the bird has eliminated the virus it will test negative. If it remains positive, it should be considered latently infected and should be expected to break out with clinical disease in the future.

This is considered a fatal disease, and there is no cure, or treatment known.

A pet bird with PBFD can live a long life, if it is in a stress-free environment. It would never have contact with other birds since it is capable of spreading the virus.


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