A high prevalence of beak and feather disease virus in non-psittacine Australian birds

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Abstract

Purpose.

Beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) is a circovirus and the cause of psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD). This disease is characterized by feather and beak deformities and is a recognized threat to endangered Psittaciformes (parrots and cockatoos). The role that non-psittacine birds may play as reservoirs of infection is unclear. This study aimed to begin addressing this gap in our knowledge of PBFD.

Methodology.

Liver samples were collected from birds presented to the Australian Wildlife Health Centre at Zoos Victoria’s Healesville Sanctuary for veterinary care between December 2014 and December 2015, and tested for BFDV DNA using polymerase chain reaction coupled with sequencing and phylogenetic analyses.

Results/Key findings.

Overall BFDV was detected in 38.1% of 210 birds. BFDV was detected at high prevalence (56.2%) in psittacine birds, in the majority of cases without any observed clinical signs of PBFD. We also found that BFDV was more common in non-psittacine species than previously recognized, with BFDV detected at 20.0% prevalence in the non-psittacine birds tested, including species with no clear ecological association with psittacines, and without showing any detectable clinical signs of BFDV infection.

Conclusion.

Further research to determine the infectivity and transmissibility of BFDV in non-psittacine species is indicated. Until such work is undertaken the findings from this study suggest that every bird should be considered a potential carrier of BFDV, regardless of species and clinical presentation. Veterinary clinics and wildlife rehabilitation facilities caring for birds that are susceptible to PBFD should reconsider biosecurity protocols aimed at controlling BFDV.

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