Polyomavirus Test

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Q: We are building up our aviary and realize that we must be careful not to introduce disease carriers. We follow all of the recommended quarantine procedures before introducing any new pairs to our breeding room. One of the things that we are concerned about is polyomavirus. We have heard many conflicting stories as to the best way to eliminate the threat of this disease. What have you done to eliminate this from becoming a problem in your aviaries?

A: The current methods for either controlling or eliminating the disease are new. As with anything new, there is bound to be some controversy and/or disagreement. At the Institute, we have, over the years, eliminated the disease from our aviaries. Our goal at this point is similar to yours. That is, since we do not have it, let’s keep it out.

The problem is that polyomavirus is a disease that can be carried and shed by birds that appear to be perfectly healthy. With the exception of caiques and Eclectus (both of which are extremely sensitive to the disease), baby birds that are close to the weaning stage, as well as older birds that contract the disease, will never become ill. Although they never become ill themselves, they are capable of transmitting the disease to young babies that have not yet grown in their feathers. At such a young age, babies do not have a strong functional immune system and will usually die from the disease. Even though they are not usually the ones that “carried” the disease into the aviaries or baby room, they are the ones that will suffer the mortality. This has made it, in the past, very difficult, if not impossible, to determine which birds in an aviary or group of babies were the carriers. Because of this, some aviculturists who have chronic problems with the disease have begun to use a vaccine, although it is rather expensive. There is now another option: A simple blood test has been developed that can identify birds that have the disease or that are carriers. The test is available from Research Associates Laboratories, their website is vetdna.com. You can have your veterinarian take the samples and submit them, or you can do it yourself. Any new acquisitions should be tested twice before they are introduced to your aviaries– once upon being purchased and a second time after their 30- to 90-day quarantine is over. Screening all birds like this precludes the need for costly vaccination programs and will, hopefully, eliminate the existence of the disease in aviculture.