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Common Diseases

Just like us, livestock animals get sick

And just like us they deserve the right care and treatment to get better. Many farmers
and veternaries feel a deep responsiblity to protect the well being of the animals in their care.

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Rickets and cage layer fatigue

Rickets and cage layer fatigue are nutritional diseases of chickens, turkeys and ducks that results in soft bones. Often the leg bones become bowed and hamper the birds ability to stand and walk. The term rickets is generally used to describe the condition in young poultry, while osteomalacia is often the term used for the disease in adult birds. Caged layer fatigue is a related condition observed in caged laying hens, usually around peak egg production, that may also be associated with osteoporosis, a condition causing brittle bones as a result of reduced bone density.

What causes rickets and cage layer fatigue?
Rickets is caused by a deficiency or imbalance of circulating calcium, vitamin D3 and/or phosphorous. It can be caused by an imbalanced or deficient diet, some medications and also some mould toxins. Caged layer fatigue is thought to be caused primarily by depletion of body stores of calcium as a result of delay in feeding high calcium feeds during high egg production or a metabolic malfunction that impairs calcium absorption or bone calcification during this production stage.

Prevention and treatment of rickets and cage layer fatigue
For normal bone calcification, calcium and phosphorous need to be supplied in adequate amounts as well as in a ratio of 2:1. Excess of either calcium or phosphorous can cause rickets. Vitamin D3 plays a critical role in regulating the absorption and metabolism of calcium. Therefore, in addition to ensuring that poultry diets have an appropriate level and balance of calcium and phosphorous, they must be adequate in vitamin D3. Bone mineralisation is a constant process and therefore correction of dietary deficiencies or imbalances can ease the condition if identified early enough.

Mould or fungal toxins, called mycotoxins, can have a range of effects on poultry including interference with the absorption of nutrients. Rickets caused through the presence of dietary mycotoxins can be treated by replacing the toxin-contaminated feed and by supplementing vitamin D3 to three or fourfold of the usual levels. There is a higher incidence of bone calcification problems in high producing layer hens housed in cages rather than floor-based housing systems, hence the term cage layer fatigue. This indicates the role of exercise in preventing or treating this condition.

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Coccidiosis

Coccidiosis is one of the most common and economically important diseases of chickens worldwide. It is caused by a parasitic organism that damages the hosts intestinal system, causing loss of production, morbidity and death. This disease has a major economic impact on the global poultry industry.

Coccidia life-cycle
Coccidial parasites are protozoa belonging to the phylum Apicomplexa. Chicken coccidiosis is caused by seven species, all from the genus Eimeria: E. acervulina, E. brunetti, E, maxima, E. mitis, E. necatrix, E. praecox and/or E. tenella. The life-cycles of these species are direct. Chickens ingest sporulated oocysts (the parasite egg) from contaminated litter, and these pass into the intestinal tract, where the parasites invade the cells of the intestinal wall. Several cycles of replication occur which lead to the formation of new oocysts which are shed in the faeces. Depending on environmental conditions (including temperature and humidity), the oocysts sporulate and become infective. The entire cycle takes 4 to 6 days. 

Intestinal damage
It is the replicative phases of the parasite which lead to damage in the intestinal tissues. Individual birds may show no clinical signs, or may suffer a mild loss of appetite, weight loss or decreased weight gain, diarrhoea (which can be bloody), dehydration and death. Resistance develops rapidly and infections can be self-limiting, but naïve birds which consume large numbers of oocysts can be severely affected and die. Immunity is strictly species-specific which means that birds exposed to one Eimeria remain susceptible to infection from all other species. The degree of injury caused by the seven species varies, with some developing deep in the intestinal mucosa, causing wide-spread damage and distinct gross lesions (e.g., E. tenella). Other species are less destructive but may still have a significant impact on production. All species are potentially of importance economically.

Methods of Control
Eimeria are present world-wide, and are ubiquitous under intensive farming methods. Up to six species have been shown to occur simultaneously on one farm. The omni-present nature of Eimeria precludes eradication as a practical option for control. Since species-specific immunity develops rapidly, the management of coccidiosis aims to achieve a balance between allowing natural immunity to build up and preventing high oocyst exposure to naïve birds. Hygiene, anticoccidial drugs and vaccines all play major roles.

Hygiene
As species of Eimeria have direct life-cycles, mechanical transmission is the primary means of spread between farms and between sheds on a farm. Oocysts are resistant in the environment, both to climatic extremes and disinfectants, and can survive for weeks in soil. However, they only last for days in litter due to heat caused by fermentation and the presence of ammonia. Good hygiene, such as cleaning boots and exchanging clothes between sheds, and the eradication of rodents, assists in minimizing the transmission of oocysts. Effective farm management, such as well maintained, drip-free water lines, minimize the level of infective oocysts in the litter, as desiccation significantly reduces sporulation.

Anticoccidial Drugs
Chemotherapy has been the main approach for controlling coccidiosis in chickens. Anti-coccidial drugs are usually used preventatively and if a farmer were to wait for overt signs of disease before treating the flock, morbidity and mortality would be high and the economic damage already done. Almost all commercial, intensively farmed flocks are administered anti-coccidial drugs prophylactically. When given at the correct low preventative doses, Eimeria species are able to complete their life-cycles without large numbers of infective oocysts building up in the environment. Such subclinical infections result in the development of strong, specific natural immunity without overt disease.

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Newcastle Disease

Newcastle Disease is a highly contagious viral infection that affects many species of domestic and wild birds to varying degrees. Domestic fowl, turkeys, pigeons and parrots are most susceptible while a mild form of the disease affects ducks, geese, pheasants, quail and guinea fowl. The disease can result in digestive, respiratory and/or nervous clinical signs, which range from a mild, almost inapparent respiratory disease to very severe depression, drop in egg production, increased respiration, profuse diarrhoea followed by collapse, or long-term nervous signs (such as twisted necks), if the birds survive. Severe forms of the disease are highly fatal.

What causes Newcastle Disease?
Newcastle Disease is caused by a paramyxovirus that can vary in pathogenicity from mild to highly pathogenic. Spread is usually by direct physical contact with infected or diseased birds. The virus is present in manure and is breathed out into the air. Other sources of infection are contaminated equipment, carcasses, water, food and clothing. People can easily carry the virus from one shed or farm to another. Newcastle Disease virus does not affect humans in the same way that it does birds but it can cause conjunctivitis in humans.

Prevention and treatment of Newcastle Disease
There is no treatment for Newcastle Disease, although treatment with antibiotics to control secondary infections may assist. The virus can remain alive in manure for up to 2 months and in dead carcasses for up to 12 months, however it is easily killed by disinfectants, fumigants and direct sunlight. Prevention relies on good quarantine and biosecurity procedures and vaccination. Newcastle Disease vaccination of commercial meat and egg layer chickens has been made compulsory in many Australian States. For information on compulsory Newcastle Disease vaccination in your State contact your State department of primary industries or agriculture.

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Parasitic worms (or Helminths)

All birds are naturally subject to infection by parasitic worms, or Helminths. The majority of Helminths infect the digestive tract but some are also found in other organs, such as the brain, trachea and eye. Not all Helminth infections cause obvious clinical disease. The roundworms (or nematodes) and the flatworms (including cestodes and trematodes) are the  two major classes of Helminth.

Roundworms are the most common intestinal worm of commercial poultry and cause the most economic impact. They are called roundworms because they are spindle-shaped and non-segmented with a smooth cuticle or skin. Some may have transverse grooves. With few exceptions, roundworms have separate males and females. Roundworms can have either a direct or an indirect lifecycle. Roundworms that have a direct lifecycle pass through four developmental stages before becoming adults. Mature roundworms living in the infected bird produce eggs (1) that pass in the droppings, where they embryonate (2) in the environment, and when ingested, they hatch (3) in the proventriculus of the host and undergo larval growth (4) to maturity.

Flatworms

Flatworms 

Flatworms that infect poultry include tapeworms (cestodes) and flukes(trematodes).

Tapeworms are white or yellowish ribbon-like segmented flatworms. Tapeworms grow by forming new segments (called proglottids) just behind their head (scolex). Each segment contains both male and female sexual organs. The tapeworm attaches itself to the wall of the intestine with the scolex. As it grows, segments on the tail end mature and break off, passing out of the intestine with the droppings. The excreted segments are filled with “eggs”, which are actually first stage larvae. Tapeworms have an indirect lifecycle. Insects and other arthropods eat the excreted segments and become intermediate hosts for the parasite. Many tapeworms require a specific intermediate host. Poultry become infected by eating infected intermediate hosts.

Flukes are flattened, unsegmented, leaf-like parasites. Flukes are hermaphroditic (each individual has both male and female sex organs) and all trematodes that infect poultry have an indirect lifecycle. Their lifecycles vary in complexity and can involve up to four hosts. More than 500 species have been found in birds but only a few are known to cause disease.

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Lice and mites

Lice and mites are common external parasites of poultry. Lice are insects, while mites belong to the same family as spiders. There are a large number of lice and mite species that can infest poultry under the appropriate conditions. They are either blood-suckers or live on dry skin scales, feathers or scabs on the skin. Adults can survive for 4-5 days away from the host. Therefore, infestation can be spread by direct contact between birds but also through contact with infested litter etc. They are more common and difficult to control in floor-based housing systems than in cage systems. Symptoms of infestation can include scratching, poor feather condition, unthriftiness, nervous behaviour and anaemia can occur with severe blood-sucking infestations.

Prevention and treatment of lice and mites
Flocks should be kept away from backyard or wild birds and individual birds examined regularly for adult parasites and eggs. Infestations can be treated with appropriate chemical pesticides, either as dry powders or liquid sprays. Effective biosecurity procedures such as an all-in/all-out clean out between flocks will help manage these pests.

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Avian influenza (AI)

Avian influenza (AI) is a highly contagious viral infection which may cause up to 100% mortality in domestic chickens or turkeys. The disease is caused by a virus that belongs to the family Orthomyxoviridae. Influenza viruses have two surface proteins, haemagglutinin and neuraminidase, that determine their subtype and the animal species they infect; there are 16 haemagglutinin and nine neuraminidase types. When AI viruses of two haemagglutinin types, H5 and H7, infect domestic poultry (chickens or turkeys) they often mutate and virulent disease arises in these birds which is called highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). The initial infection that does not cause or causes minimal disease is called low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI). Wild water birds act as reservoir hosts of influenza viruses, however these viruses generally do not cause disease in these birds.

Avian influenza in poultry and impact on the poultry industries
The clinical signs of infection with HPAI virus are variable and can be affected by the existence of other diseases, the age of the birds, the environment and the severity of the virus itself. In very severe forms the disease appears suddenly and birds die quickly. Some may appear depressed, egg production falls and softshelled eggs are produced. There may be profuse watery diarrhoea, combs and wattles may become blue and respiration may be laboured. With less virulent forms of HPAI, the clinical signs may include decreased egg production, depression, respiratory signs suggestive of a cold, swelling of the face, possibly some nervous signs and diarrhoea. With LPAI, there may be no clinical signs seen following infection or mild signs relating to the respiratory, alimentary or reproductive systems may be seen.

Spread of infection
Direct or indirect contact (likely through drinking water) with migratory waterfowl is the most likely source of infection for domestic poultry. Once established in domestic poultry, infection can also spread through contact with contaminated equipment or humans. Transmission through the egg is uncommon, although contamination of the shell does occur. Avian influenza virus is highly concentrated in the manure and in nasal and eye discharges.

Persistence of AI virus
Environmental conditions have a marked effect on virus survival outside the bird. Avian influenza virus can survive for at least 35 days at 4°C in manure and can be isolated from lake water where waterfowl are present. The virus can survive for up to 23 days if refrigerated and for several days in carcases at ambient temperature. The virus can persist in poultry meat products but is eliminated by cooking.

Prevention of infection
Australia has developed industry plans (called biosecurity plans) to prevent avian influenza viruses gaining entry to commercial poultry flocks. The plans are aimed at limiting possible contact between wild birds and domestic poultry through contaminated water and food supplies and transfer of infection by the mechanical movement of infection on fomites such as on the clothing and footwear of persons and on equipment, containers, vehicles etc. Treatment of surface water by chlorination to inactivate the virus is essential if it is to be supplied to poultry and aviary birds.

Suspicion of AI
If you are in contact with commercial poultry which present with any unusual disease signs, abnormal behaviour or unexplained deaths, or with pet birds with depression, rapid breathing and a sudden rise in mortality, report this to your veterinarian or Department of Primary Industries/Agriculture Officer or alternatively call the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 at once.

Control of AI outbreaks
Australia has very strict quarantine procedures that seek to prevent the entry of live birds and poultry products from countries that have experienced AI outbreaks and increased surveillance is undertaken at airports, seaports and international mail exchanges when AI outbreaks occur overseas. There is nothing that can be done to control the infection in wild birds but the likelihood of migratory birds introducing H5N1 infection to Australian poultry is regarded as highly unlikely given wild birds become rapidly ill or die after becoming infected and the main reservoir hosts (ducks, geese and swans) do not migrate into Asia. The use of AI vaccination will likely be considered in future in the event of an outbreak that is not readily controlled by eradication techniques.

Control of AI outbreaks Avian influenza viruses and human infection
Generally, outbreaks of AI infections in poultry or wild birds have not been associated with cases of human influenza. However cases of human influenza due to H5 and H7 subtype HPAI viruses have been recorded in a few humans associated with recent poultry outbreaks in Europe (2003), eastern Asia (1997–2006) and western Asia (2006).

Human pandemic influenza
Human pandemic influenza occurs irregularly, having occurred in 1919, 1957 and 1968 when strains of influenza virus with a novel haemagglutinin type adapted to humans and spread rapidly around the world. It is feared that another human pandemic will arise from the current AI outbreak in eastern Asia. Illness and death have been associated with outbreaks of HPAI viruses of both H5 and H7 subtype, particularly the H5N1 virus in eastern Asia. The pandemic of human influenza will not occur until there have been mutations in the poultry H5N1 virus or its recombination with a human influenza virus that will allow the resulting virus to easily infect and transmit between humans. To this time, contact with live infected birds or their manure has been necessary for infection to establish in humans and few human cases have infected other humans in contact with them. A pandemic cannot commence without an AI virus acquiring the ability to easily infect and spread between humans. Avian influenza in birds and human pandemic influenza can be expected to be caused by genetically different viruses.

Dangers for humans consuming poultry products
The recognised source of AI infection for humans is direct contact with infected live birds or their manure, so poultry products are relatively safe. Handling raw poultry meat products or eggs and eating cooked poultry products have not been recorded as causing infection. Cooking poultry products in the normal way destroys AI viruses

Birds susceptible to AI
All commercial, domestic and wild bird species are susceptible to infection with AI viruses but disease outbreaks occur more frequently in chickens and turkeys. LPAI viruses are traditionally spread by migratory wild birds. Many species of waterfowl, especially geese, ducks and swans, carry the virus but generally show no signs of disease. The recent HPAI outbreak in eastern Asia has seen the H5N1 virus cause disease and high mortality in ducks, geese, swans and other wild birds.

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