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Polyomavirus in Budgerigars (French Molt)

By: Dr. Branson Ritchie

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Diagnosis In-depth

Polyomavirus should be considered in any budgerigar chick that drops dead with no premonitory signs. Polyomavirus should also be considered in chicks that die shortly after developing clinical signs that include depression, loss of appetite and bleeding under the skin (bruising) as well as in chicks with abnormally developing feathers.

Most cases of polyomavirus are suspected when viral factories called inclusion bodies are seen in the cells of affected feathers, liver, kidney or heart using a microscope. The disease is definitively diagnosed using viral specific DNA probes or by culturing the virus from infected tissues.

A virus neutralization assay is the most commonly used antibody test. In unvaccinated birds, detection of antibodies against the polyomavirus indicates that the bird has been previously infected.

Confirming an active case of polyomavirus is best achieved by combining tests that detect antibodies against the organism with tests that demonstrate that polyomavirus (culture), or a piece of polyomavirus genetic material (DNA probe test), is present in a sample. Tests like culture and DNA probe-based assays (PCR) are most valuable in birds with suggestive clinical signs, which are likely to be shedding polyomavirus from the respiratory and/or gastrointestinal tract. Culture remains the gold standard for documenting the presence of polyomavirus in a clinical sample. However, culture is problematic, time consuming and expensive in comparison to other tests. If a swab for DNA probe-based testing or culture is not slimy after sampling the choana and not coated with excrement after sampling the feces, then the sample is of poor quality.

Currently, there is no test that can be used to confirm that a bird does not have polyomavirus. However, a lack of detectable antibodies in serum coupled with an inability to detect the organism at a portal of exit provides supportive evidence.

Therapy In-depth

Currently, there is no effective therapy for polyomavirus-associated disease. In larger psittacine birds, several therapies, including various immunostimulants and antiviral drugs designed for other viruses, have been suggested. Included in the group of frequently mentioned therapies are interferon (a nonspecific immunostimulant), acyclovir (an antiviral drug with specific activity against some herpesviruses) and AZT (an antiviral drug with activity against some retroviruses). Anecdotal evidence suggests that some of these therapies may be effective in the treatment of large psittacine birds with clinical signs suggestive of avian polyomavirus. However, none of these treatments has been demonstrated to be effective in birds with documented (demonstration of virus in affected tissues) avian polyomavirus infection. Of these speculative therapies, interferon may be the most promising.

Other therapies that may be needed include fluids to correct dehydration and supportive nutrition if a bird has not eaten for several days or has lost considerable weight.

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