Pigeon paramyxovirus

Avian Paramyxovirus type 1 in pigeons (PPMV1) is a viral infection that is present in most countries that can spread rapidly and cause high rates of pigeon illness and death.

Pigeon paramyxovirus type 1 (PPMV1) is a contagious viral disease affecting pigeons. It was first detected in Australia in 2011 and is present in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. It was first diagnosed in Western Australia in November 2015.

In response to the initial detection of PPMV1 in Victoria in 2011, PPMV1 was declared a reportable disease in WA and DPIRD implemented import permit requirements for pigeons coming into WA. These measures were taken to reduce the likelihood of spread of the disease into WA while further research was done on the disease, and while pigeon owners took measures to minimise the chance of disease entry into their flocks through vaccination and improving their biosecurity standards.

In 2013, when the disease was known to pose little risk to wild birds or the commercial poultry industry, and when industry consultation showed bird owners had had a sufficient opportunity to vaccinate their birds against PPMV1, the import permit requirements were lifted.

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The virus

Paramyxovirus strains are generally capable of affecting other avian species including poultry. But so far, there has not been any detection of natural infection of poultry.

Human infection with this virus is rare and usually occurs only in people who have close, direct contact with infected birds. The virus causes mild flu-like symptoms.

Avian paramyxovirus type 1 (PPMV1) is a very serious disease that can kill up to 100% of pigeons in some lofts. Some of the signs of PPMV1infection include lethargy, vomiting or regurgitation, green diarrhoea, twisting of the neck, circling, head flicking, laboured breathing and runny eyes and beak. Sick birds can die within three days. The infection spreads easily between birds and there is no specific treatment.

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Infected birds may shed the virus in their faeces and other discharges, contaminating the environment (including feed, water, equipment and human clothing) and allowing transmission to other birds. Avian paramyxovirus 1 can survive for several weeks in the environment, especially in cool weather.

The spread of PPMV1is typically due to the movement of birds, but it can be carried in eggs or on equipment used with pigeons, as well as on people and their clothing.

Signs of PPMV 1
PPMV1 is a contagious viral disease which typically affects high numbers of pigeons within a loft. Death rates seen in cases in Victoria were 50-100%, while in NSW the disease appeared to be much milder with death rates of 5-40%.

Protection from spread

In assuming responsibility for protecting their pigeons, keepers should consider implementing biosecurity measures and vaccination for their birds.

Organisers of Pigeons’ shows and races are encouraged to ensure that only vaccinated birds are allowed to take part in these activities.

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Early signs of PPMV1 may include:

reluctance to fly
lethargy
ruffled feathers
increased thirst
loss of appetite.
These signs typically worsen within 72 hours to include:

vomiting
diarrhoea
difficulty breathing
neurological signs including trembling of the wings and head, tumbling on landing, paralysis of the wings and legs and twisting of the neck
death.
How does PPMV1 spread?
PPMV1 spreads easily between pigeons. Infected birds excrete the virus through their faeces, as well as other bodily discharges. Other birds become infected through direct contact with an infected bird, or contamination of the environment, feed, water, equipment and human clothing. The virus may remain infectious in the environment for several weeks.

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Treatment
There is no specific treatment for PPMV1. However, supportive therapy may increase survival rates. Contact your private veterinarian to discuss treatment options.

Preventing PPMV1 in your flock
Pigeon owners are responsible for preventing PPMV1 in their flocks. Prevention can be achieved through vaccination and sound biosecurity practices.

Biosecurity

Pigeon owners´ primary defence against PPMV1 is to prevent the introduction of the disease into their loft by the implementation of the following biosecurity procedures:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting footwear and washing hands and clothes after visiting other birds.
  • Keeping lofts and equipment clean.
  • Disinfecting equipment used to house, transport, feed and water other birds.
  • Preventing wild birds and feral pigeons (and their droppings) from having contact with your pigeons or contaminating their feed or water.
  • Quarantine for at least 2 weeks any new birds or birds returning from a show or a race.
  • Limiting any unnecessary visitors to your pigeons’ loft.

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Vaccination is not a substitute for sound biosecurity practices, so owners should review and/or strengthen their current biosecurity measures to minimise the chance of disease entering their flock.

Comprehensive bird biosecurity guidelines are available on the federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ bird biosecurity webpage.

It is recommended that bird owners:

quarantine new birds (not just doves or pigeons) before introducing them to the existing flock
feed and clean quarantined birds after the other birds
prevent contamination of food and water by faeces or other animal waste
buy birds from a breeder with a known bird health status
buy healthy-looking birds and avoid buying them from markets
disinfect equipment used to house, transport or feed or water birds from outside your flock or birds that have travelled to shows
restrict contact between pet birds and wild birds
if attending bird events, biosecurity guidelines should be followed,
participation in races, shows or exhibitions should include consideration of the vaccination status of all birds.

Research trials on the use of ND vaccines showed that they are safe to use in pigeons, and if pigeons are vaccinated properly twice they are likely to produce antibody levels that should protect them against PPMV1.

Inactivated (killed) ND vaccines in 2 applications at 4 weeks apart are used to vaccinate pigeons against PPMV1. An inactivated vaccine is a vaccine that contains a virus that has been killed. The vaccine also contains adjuvants to stimulate stronger and longer lasting immunity.

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Injection sites are subcutaneously (under the skin) at the base of the neck or in the loose skin between the leg and the body.

Inactivated vaccines must not be frozen. They should be kept at the manufacturer’s recommended temperature, which is usually between 4-8ºC.

Only healthy pigeons in healthy flocks should be vaccinated. It is important to vaccinate all the pigeons in a loft to optimise loft protection. Young pigeons are often given the first vaccine dose at 4 weeks of age and the second vaccine dose four weeks later.  An annual booster vaccination is highly recommended.

What do I do if I suspect PPMV1 in my flock?

Keep all birds confined and do not sell or move birds to another flock until a diagnosis has been made and veterinary advice has been provided.

Can humans or other animals be infected with PPMV1?
Human infection with PPMV1 is very rare and usually only occurs in people with close, direct contact with infected pigeons. In humans, the virus typically causes mild flu-like symptoms. There is negligible risk to other animal species.

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