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Pacheco's Disease

By: Dr. Branson Ritchie

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Pacheco's disease is caused by a group of psittacine herpesviruses. There are at least three different psittacine herpesviruses that cause clinical and microscopic changes characteristic of this disease. It is probable that other variants of this virus will be identified in psittacine birds. Pacheco's disease is most common in homes with multiple birds and aviaries. The disease is rare in individual companion birds, unless they have recently been exposed to infected birds.

Most psittacine birds are considered susceptible to infection but disease may or may not occur depending on the strain of virus, route of exposure and species and condition of the infected bird. Birds that survive the initial infection are considered infected for life (latent infection) and can intermittently shed the virus. Latency is a type of permanent infection associated with some viruses, particularly herpesviruses.

Pacheco's disease outbreaks usually occur following stressful events or exposure of solitary birds to others that are shedding the virus.

What to Watch For

  • Diarrhea
  • Regurgitation
  • Increased water consumption and urine output
  • Difficulty moving
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellowish or greenish discoloration of the urates and urine
  • Sudden death in a bird that appeared completely normal hours earlier

    The herpesviruses that cause Pacheco's disease are not known to infect humans or to infect other types of birds naturally.


  • Complete blood count
  • Blood chemistries
  • Radiographs (X-rays)
  • Serology (testing for antibodies)
  • Culture for PDV
  • DNA probe-based test (PCR) on choanal and cloacal swab
  • DNA probe-based test (in situ hybridization) on tissues of birds with suspicious microscopic changes


    Treatment does not cure the viral infection but can reduce the signs of illness. Acyclovir or related anti-herpes compounds can be used. For birds with clincal signs, Acyclovir is given by IV or subcutaneous injection. For exposed birds, anti-herpes compounds are given orally through a feeding tube. For flocks, medication can be added to the food or water.

    In some cases, supportive care such as fluids and force-feedings may be needed.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Any bird undergoing treatment for Pacheco's disease must be kept in isolation. Birds exposed to ill birds should also be quarantined.

    Thoroughly clean and disinfect enclosures, food bowls and non-porous toys and perches. Discard porous (wood, natural fibers, rope) objects that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected and do not replace them until treatment and vaccination is completed.

    On a daily basis, monitor fecal output to ensure proper food consumption and digestion of any ill bird. Monitor and record daily weight to detect changes.

    Pacheco's disease is much easier to prevent than to treat. Preventative measures include:

  • Reducing crowding and improve air circulation and hygiene.

  • Keep your bird out of direct or indirect contact with other birds.

  • Enjoy the bird you have. If you decide to add a new bird, he should be quarantined for at least 90 days and be examined by an avian veterinarian at the beginning and end of quarantine.

  • Have any new bird tested using an antibody assay and/or vaccinated during quarantine.

  • Quarantine any bird that has been taken from the home or aviary and exposed to other birds before placing him back in the home or aviary.

  • Use biosecure-shipping containers to prevent exposure to PDV during transport.

  • Once an outbreak has occurred, maintain a routine vaccination schedule as recommended by your avian veterinarian.

  • An inactivated vaccine can be used to prevent the severe disease associated with some natural infections.

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