UK Reports Sudden Death in Broilers, Respiratory Disease in Turkeys

UK - The Monthly Surveillance Report from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) for November 2008 highlights sudden mortality in broilers caused by flip-over and an unspecified metabolic condition. Respiratory diseases dominated the investigations in turkeys, with illness and mortality caused by erysipelas, pasteurella and ORT.
calendar icon 21 January 2009
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Broiler Chickens

Sudden death syndrome (Flip over)

The death of 76 birds over two days from a flock of 11,000 broiler chickens prompted the submission of 12 dead birds. All were in good condition and had been eating prior to death. Some of the birds showed ventricles contracted in systole and some had mild hydropericardium. There was no good evidence of infectious disease processes. The subtle post-mortem findings and the clinical history indicated a diagnosis of broiler sudden death syndrome colloquially known as 'flip over'.

Flip over disease occurs in fast growing broilers, which die quickly following convulsive attacks. Bilateral lung congestion and oedema, consistent with acute 'left-sided' heart failure, is a very common finding at post-mortem examination of birds dying from this disease.

Broiler Ascites

The carcasses of two, 12-week-old broiler chickens were submitted following a history of lethargy and death over a two- to three-day period. The growth rates of all of the birds was better than expected. Post-mortem examination revealed a degree of vent pecking, extensive ascites, dilation of the posterior vena cava and right ventricle. A diagnosis of 'right ventricular heart failure in broilers' or 'broiler ascites' was made.

Spiking Mortality Syndrome

Spiking mortality syndrome (probable hypoglycaemia) was thought to be the main cause of sharp and transient increase in mortality in one flock of 24-day-old broilers. Post-mortem examination findings in most carcasses revealed congested subcutaneous tissue and liver, pale spleens with blood splashes and absence of food in the upper digestive tract. Histological examination revealed numerous lipid droplets demonstrated by Oil Red 'O' in the renal tubuloepithelial cells and myocardial cells. These findings support the possibility of a metabolic problem e.g. hypoglycaemia, resulting in the mobilisation of fat stores as an alternative energy source.

Layer chickens

Spirochaetal enteritis

Poor production and loss of condition was investigated in a commercial egg laying flock. The possibility of Brachyspira infection (avian intestinal spirochaetosis) was suspected, and a range of Brachyspira organisms including the pathogenic B. intermedia were isolated on selective culture from the caecal contents.



Losses of 14 birds out of a group of 90 four-month-old turkeys were described over a three-day period. The submitted birds showed purple areas of discolouration of the head skin, excess pericardial fluid, enlarged spleens and a mild catarrhal enteritis. Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae was isolated from various tissues.


Two batches of hen turkeys (17 and 20 weeks) experienced losses. Lesions of unilateral pneumonia were present with an infra-orbital sinusitis in one bird and an airsacculitis. Pasteurella multocida was isolated from the lesions.


A five-month-old turkey was submitted to Winchester for post mortem examination with a history of respiratory disease within two groups of 50 birds. Affected birds had been seen sneezing, with swollen sinuses and some clinical improvement had been noticed on antibiotic therapy. Post mortem examination showed an excess of blood-stained mucus within the infra-orbital sinuses and nasal chamber. Caseous lesions were present on the air sacs and pleura. The lungs were congested and haemorrhagic.

Microbiological culturing yielded Aspergillus fumigatus and several bacterial isolates. Mycoplasma DGGE testing resulted in the identification of Mycoplasma gallinaceum, which is normally considered a commensal organism and may have complicated an underlying mycotic pneumonia and airsacculitis.

Ornithobacterium rhinotracheale

Two turkeys 15 week-old turkeys were received from a 1,500 bird flock with a history of recent respiratory problems. Post mortem revealed marked thickening of the air sacs with congestion of the lungs and oedema of the pleura. No evidence of mycoplasmosis or TRT was detected by serological testing, but an organism subsequently identified as Ornithobacterium rhinotracheale (ORT) was isolated from lung and air sac tissue.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.

Further Reading

- Find out more information on the diseases mentioned in this article by clicking here.
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