New Paramyxovirus in Pigeons

A strain of Avian Paramyxovirus not previously found in Australia has been confirmed as causing deaths in a number of hobby pigeon flocks in Victoria. The reported mortality rates in adult birds are between 50 and 100 per cent, according to the New South Wales (NSW) Department for Primary Industries.
calendar icon 16 March 2012
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Some of the flocks are linked by trading and some flocks were allowed to fly during the day.

There are no known traces to NSW at present but further tracing is underway.

At this stage, there are no reports of this virus causing disease in other states including NSW, in wild birds or other types of domestic or commercial birds.

Government animal health authorities have agreed to prioritise the investigation of pigeon and other bird holdings where disease is suspected and the quarantine of affected properties.

It is strongly recommended that shows, exhibitions and racing events involving pigeons be cancelled while the extent of the outbreak is being monitored. This will help reduce the risk of transmission to and amongst domestic pigeons.

General Information on Paramyxovirus in Pigeons outside Australia

The first signs are usually increased thirst and diarrhoea, loss of appetite and reluctance to move and fly.

Nervous signs may develop early (before diarrhoea), and include: trembling of the wings and head, tumbling on landing, partial paralysis of the wings and legs and twisting of the neck (torticollis). In some cases, birds attempting to feed may be unable to pick up grain.

The majority of pigeons in a loft may show signs of the disease and a proportion of these may die. Those recovering from the disease may be left with some nervous signs. Others may have their racing ability affected.

Similar symptoms are produced by other pigeon diseases, e.g. herpes virus, salmonella and poisons.

Factors which can lead to spread of disease include:

  • Contact with infected birds (including strays or feral birds)
  • Contact with contaminated travelling boxes or transporters that have not been cleaned and disinfected
  • Shared drinking water in lofts and transporters, and
  • Virus carried on the clothes, hands and feet of loft visitors.

What to do if Your Birds are Sick

Anyone concerned about the health of their pigeons or birds should contact their veterinarian. The Department of Primary Industries will pay for testing at the laboratory.

Report suspicion of disease to the Technical Specialist Poultry on 02 4640 6402 or by phoning the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline on 1800 675 888.

Keep all birds confined and do not sell or move birds to another flock until laboratory test results are available.

If disease is confirmed the premises will be quarantined and all bird movement restricted until animal health authorities are confident that the flock no longer poses a risk of infection.

Biosecurity Recommendations for Pigeon Fanciers

The main tools currently available to reduce the risk of spread to other lofts are good biosecurity and minimising contact with other flocks or birds. Until the situation in Victoria is clarified, avoid trading, racing and showing. Introductions of new pigeons to existing loft should be avoided if possible.

Protect your flock by:

  • Not taking birds to shows, fairs or race meets
  • Not trading or introducing new birds
  • Isolating and closely monitoring introduced birds or birds that have been to races or shows for 14 days (feed and water these isolated birds last and wash and change afterwards)
  • Disinfecting equipment used to house, transport of feed or water birds from outside your flock or birds that have travelled to shows
  • Removing stray birds from your loft
  • Avoiding visitors to your loft, and
  • Disinfecting boots and washing hand and clothes if you visit other lofts.

Several vaccines are registered to protect poultry against Avian Paramyxovirus and your veterinarian may prescribe vaccine to protect your pigeons. It is not known how effective these vaccines will be against the strain of virus currently causing disease in Australian pigeons.

Does the Disease Affect Humans?

Human infection with this virus is extremely rare and usually occurs only in people who have close direct contact with infected birds. The virus causes only mild, short-term conjunctivitis.

Does the Disease Affect Other Birds?

Paramyxovirus strains are generally capable of affecting other avian species. At this stage, the disease has only been detected in pigeons.

Are my Pets at Risk?

There is no threat to dogs, cats and other non–avian species that come into contact with infected pigeons.

Movements into NSW

To protect NSW flocks from this Avian Paramyxovirus, restrictions have been introduced on the entry of pigeons, pigeon eggs or equipment used in association with pigeon from Victoria into NSW. These restrictions apply to birds or equipment that have been in Victoria at any time since 31 August 2011.

Pigeons may only enter if the conditions for flock isolation and testing criteria set out in the Order are met and they are accompanied by the Declaration re conditions in Importation Order.

Equipment or fitting may be moved into NSW if they have been cleaned and disinfected as set out in the Order.

Ban on Pigeon Events in Victoria until 25 March

The Minister for Agriculture and Food Security has issued an order prohibiting the holding of shows, exhibitions, markets, sales, auctions, tossing and racing pigeons anywhere in the State of Victoria, according to the state’'s Department of Primary Industries. The ban should assist the containment of the disease.

Loft flying may continue however loft owners should consider carefully the risk to their biosecurity given the extensive amount of PMV1 infection identified in feral pigeons across Melbourne. If owners choose to loft fly and where several lofts are within a small area, owners are encouraged to coordinate their loft flying to minimise the mixing of their birds. Tired or disorientated birds should be prevented from entering other lofts should they land there.

This ban has been extended for a further 90 days, due to finish on 25 March 2012.

Further Reading

- Go to our latest news item on paramyxovirus in Australia by clicking here.

Further Reading

- Find out more information on Newcastle disease (paramyxovirus 1) by clicking here.

March 2012
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