National Wildlife Health Center

...advancing wildlife and ecosystem health

Avian Pox

Question Albatross

What is it?

Avian pox is caused by a virus (avipox). The virus reproduces in the skin and can be transmitted between birds either by direct contact (bird to bird) or by insect bites (flies or mosquitoes). The virus is very resistant in the environment and thus can also be transmitted by inanimate objects (e.g. contaminated perches).

What does it do?

Avian pox infects the skin and can cause a significant inflammatory reaction in the avian host. Typical areas affected in birds are featherless and include the skin at the base of the beak, the skin around the eyes, and the skin of the feet. In more severe cases, the inflammation caused by the virus can cause large scabs that can block circulation and lead to loss of digits or entire limbs or lead to blindness or inability to eat or death. Infrequently, the virus can spread throughout the body and affect internal organs.

What does it affect?

Pox can affect many different species of birds. In Hawaii, laceneck and barred doves in urban areas are commonly affected whereas in upland forests, native honeycreepers and Hawaiian crows can get the disease. Avian pox even affects seabirds and is often found in Laysan albatross chicks on Kauai and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

What are the field signs?

Presence of scabs around the eyes, the base of the beak, or the feet and legs with or without loss of digits.

Where and when does it occur?

In Hawaii, pox can occur anywhere at all times of the year although in certain areas, there is a seasonal component.

How do you detect it?

Presence of birds with characteristic field signs is highly suggestive of pox activity. However, to confirm presence of the virus, tissue must be either examined under the microscope or attempts to grow the virus must be made in the laboratory. For microscopic examination, tissues must be preserved in 10% neutral buffered formalin. For virus isolation, tissues must be sent to the laboratory fresh or frozen.

How do you manage it?

Because the virus is transmitted by insects and contact, managing for avian pox can be very difficult. Effective mosquito and fly control can help reduce the amount of disease.

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Page Last Modified: Jun 20, 2018