Avian Tuberculosis


“Tuberculosis is a prevalent chronic illness of elderly wild and captive birds, accounting for up to 14 percent of avian fatalities in several zoological parks with mixed species,” says Dr. Nicole Van Der Heyden of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana. Dr. Van Der Heyden owns and operates the Indianapolis Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic.

Avian TB is more often known as avian mycobacteriosis since the illness does not normally generate tubercles (nodules) like tuberculosis in mammals. “This chronic wasting illness is marked by weight loss, diarrhoea, trouble breathing, and skin and eye malignancies,” Dr. Van Der Heyden explains. Tumors may damage the spleen, liver, lungs, air sacs, skin, and bone marrow, among other organs.

“Mycobacteriosis is most common among parakeets, budgerigars, Brotogeris species, Amazons, and other parrot family members. Toucans, different finches, and pigeons are among the soft-billed species that are often afflicted. Cranes, ducks, poultry, rails, herons, and raptors are all susceptible “Dr. Van Der Heyden explains.

When faecal matter is ingested, the illness is frequently spread. Waterfowl may get infected via their eyes after coming into touch with polluted water. When the diagnosis is established, the majority of the birds are older than 5 years old.

Mycobacteriosis testing should be performed on newly bought birds. The acid fast stain is now the sole easily accessible laboratory technique for diagnosing avian TB. Changes in the blood might raise suspicion. Intestinal shedding is widespread in infected birds due to multi-organ involvement. As a result of the occasional shedding, a faecal acid fast stain is a valuable but insensitive instrument. A more specific test is an endoscopic biopsy/acid fast or bone marrow cytology. Texas A&M University and the University of California, Davis are now investigating the potential of an antibody test to identify sick birds. Initial research indicates that this will be a helpful test, but it will need to be paired with other assays to identify all affected birds.

“Birds should ideally be confined for many months to a year or more before being placed into a mixed aviary with a high number of birds. This is not practical in most collections, but it should be considered when dealing with rare or endangered species “Dr. Van Der Heyden states. “Birds kept in pairs in readily cleaned cages have a minimal risk of illness transmission. Despite prolonged interaction, cage mates of diseased birds often do not get the illness.”

Treatment for avian mycobacteriosis is debatable and might take a year or more. Dr. Van Der Heyden claims that “Previously, most veterinarians avoided treating diseased birds due to worries about transmission to people and a lack of appropriate medications. Recent research shows that the risk of transmission is low and that existing medications are effective.”

Texas A&M University is now working with researchers at the University of California, Davis, to develop novel diagnostic tests for identifying birds afflicted with avian TB. They will try to stop the avian TB infection cycle in the red siskin using these tests and specialised management strategies.

“Although it is uncertain if the TB strains that infect birds are the same that infect humans,” she says, “it is important to keep diseased birds away from humans, especially newborns, the elderly, and those with AIDS or other immunological diseases.”

Practice proper hygiene, use wire cages, change soil and water often (free-flowing water is preferable), and avoid exposing your birds to wild birds to prevent mycobacteriosis and other infections. Stagnant ponds for water birds should be dredged and drained on a yearly basis, while free-flowing ponds should have an uncontaminated supply of water. “The single most significant aspect in avoiding transmission is frequent removal of faecal waste or avoidance of exposure to faecal material,” says Dr. Van Der Heyden.

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