PBFD stands for Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease.
The PBFD virus is the smallest known virus capable of causing disease and is part of a new family of viruses known as circoviridae. Although the exact host range is unknown, it appears that most psittacines (parrots and parakeets) are susceptible.
Rapid weight loss, depression, shedding of developing feathers, development of abnormal feathers, beak elongation, and abnormal growth all lead to death.
Irreversible feather loss, shedding of growing feathers, formation of aberrant feathers, new pinched feathers, and loss of powder down are all symptoms. Other signs include an oversized or deformed beak, symmetrical sores on the beak, and, in rare occasions, nails. In the later stages of the illness, immunosuppression, fast weight loss, and depression are also possible.
Secondary viral, fungal, bacterial, or parasitic infections are common as a consequence of a PBFD viral infection’s suppression of immunity. Additional symptoms, such as high white cell counts, are often caused by secondary infections and may not be directly connected to PBFD virus infections.
The incubation period for PBFD ranges from 21 days to approximately 18 months.
Direct contact with infected feces, crop secretions, infected materials and surfaces, and feather dust can all result in viral transmission. Transmission to a developing egg is also possible.
PCR testing can be used to identify birds infected with the PBFD virus as well as environmental contamination in incubators, brooders, veterinarian offices, and so on.
All birds brought into your aviary or house should be tested. Avoid contact with diseased or exposed birds. Discourage potential PBFD-carrying guests from accessing your aviary and maintain good hygiene.
To rule out latent infection, all birds of vulnerable species were DNA tested. DNA testing of aviary equipment and the surroundings for potential contamination.
There is no recognized therapy. Vaccines under development are being tested.
PBFD In Parrots
This terrible disease affects a wide variety of species, but parrots and parrot-like creatures appear to be at the top of the list. Because PBFD occurs naturally in the wilds of Australasia, Cockatoos are vulnerable to infection. Cockatiels and budgerigars are frequently infected.
African Greys are among the Old World parrots that succumb to this disease. New World parrots, such as Macaws and Amazons, appear to have less disease and are more resistant to it but will become infected if exposed to PBFD contamination.
Older parrots in good health who become infected with this virus can fight it off with their own immune system. We can’t assume that the birds that survive are virus-free, but the levels of PBFD are so low that they’re undetectable.
PBFD is a fatal disease that primarily affects young psittacines. The older the bird is when it becomes infected, the less likely it is to become ill and die. Older birds (as well as less susceptible young birds) can develop transient viraemia, in which birds that initially tested positive for PBFD by DNA testing gradually become less and less positive (viral levels decrease) until no virus can be detected. This does not imply that the bird is truly virus-free, as all tests have a low sensitivity level. In my opinion, the immune systems of such birds can cope with the infection and either eliminate the viral infection completely or keep the infection at such low levels that the virus cannot be detected and the bird does not show any symptoms of the disease. Young birds with immature immune systems or older birds with some immune deficiency contract the disease and die.
We have acquired a large number of birds, mostly lovebirds and cockatiels, from people who had PBFD in their collections over the last few years. We wanted to know a) how much virus remained in recovering individuals and b) if there were strain (DNA-sequence) differences between the viruses that infected these birds.
When the birds recovered, their viral levels dropped from very high to undetectable. Birds with obvious clinical signs, such as feather loss, never recovered, died, and always had detectable viral levels, despite the fact that they could live without feathers for up to two years.
They could have died from causes other than PBFD. The young we obtained from the recovered birds showed no signs of the disease, but we must note that we did not have many offspring because we do not have a setup to properly raise lovebirds. The discovery suggests that there is no longer enough virus in the environment in which the birds were kept to infect the neonates.
DNA companies sequenced the DNA of a number of isolates and discovered some sometimes quite serious sequence differences with strains described by others; however, we do not yet know the effect of the sequence difference on the virulence of the disease; such differences can, however, be used to track the spread of the disease, which would be interesting in and of itself.
Skin biopsy, feather and shaft surgical biopsy, or PCR testing of blood, swab, and feather samples
Any bird experiencing aberrant feather loss or development should be evaluated for PBFD. A biopsy of the aberrant feathers, including the calimus (shaft), might be performed to look for evidence of the virus. However, since the PBFD virus does not impact all feathers at the same time, this approach to analyzing a sample may be prone to inaccuracy. Furthermore, birds with PBFD might have normal feathers, and the PCR test is the most efficient approach for identifying the virus in birds prior to the development of feather lesions.
Some infected birds test positive for the virus but never display clinical indications. Other positive birds may have an immune response adequate to fend off the illness and test negative after 30-90 days. As a result, it is suggested that all PBFD-positive birds be re-tested 60-90 days following the original testing. If the second sample stays positive, the bird is irreversibly infected and will exhibit clinical indications of the illness.
A full blood sample, together with a cloacal swab or feathers (particularly aberrant or suspicious-looking feathers), is indicated for testing an individual bird. If the sample is positive, the bird should be quarantined and re-tested in 4-6 weeks. If the bird tests negative the second time, a third test should be performed after 4-6 weeks.
Post-mortem samples include liver, spleen, kidney, and feather samples in a sterile container, as well as postmortem swabs.
Environmental testing using swabs from aviaries, worktops, fans, air filters, nest boxes, and other locations is particularly successful in detecting the presence of PBFD DNA in the environment.
*When feasible, provide both whole blood and a cloacal swab sample for examination.
Prior to delivery, samples should be kept at 4 degrees Celsius. (refrigerator). Samples should be sent in a padded envelope or box. Regular mail is OK for sending samples, however, overnight delivery is preferred.
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