Pigeon Pox

Pox virus is not usually serious and occurs in pigeon flocks and feral pigeons worldwide.
Increased incidence of pigeon pox is observed in humid summer and warm winter weather.

How the pigeon pox virus spreads

Pox is spread by insects and through fighting. The usual mode of transmission is fighting,
when the beak of an infected bird simultaneously breaks the skin and leaves a small amount
of saliva containing the virus behind. For birds to become infected, the virus needs a break
in the skin or mucous membrane lining the mouth or eyelid to gain entry. For this reason
most lesions are around the eyes and beak, and cocks are more frequently infected.

Additionally, birds with the disease excrete the virus in tears, saliva and sometimes their
droppings. At certain times the virus is also found in the blood.

Mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects can also transmit the disease but can usually
only gain access to the un-feathered parts of the body and so cause lesions around the head
and on the legs.

Mites can also spread the virus and can also cause lesions to develop on the feathered parts
of the body. When non-infected and infected birds share drinkers or bath water, the virus can
be transmitted through the water. When sharing bath water, the virus can infect the feather
follicle at the time the feather is emerging, and cause vesicles to form here.

Symptoms

  • Birds may show scabby or crusty lesions on unfeathered parts of the body such as
    the beak, around eyes and on the feet.
  • In the beak or throat cavity there may be cheesy-looking, foul smelling 'growths'
    (known as the mucousal form). These can be confused with canker growths for the
    inexperienced, particularly if no outer skin lesions are seen, so a veterinary diagnosis
    should be obtained.
  • Birds may appear otherwise well, unless lesions in the mouth interfere with feeding or
    breathing.

Treatment

  • There is no antiviral treatment as such, but a vet may prescribe an antibiotic to
    combat any secondary infections.
  • Vitamin A can help to promote healing of skin lesions.
  • Do not attempt to remove lesions inside the mouth - they are actually outgrowths of
    the skin - as this is likely to cause severe bleeding.

Prevention

  • Pigeons may be vaccinated against pox - Pox vaccination is possible from as early
    as six weeks old.
  • Treat any cuts and abrasions seen on a bird.
  • In climates prone to mosquitoes, take necessary precautions to prohibit them from
    entering the loft such as through the use of screens.

Frequently asked questions

Is pigeon pox contagious to humans?

No, there is no evidence to suggest that pigeon pox can infect humans.

How long does pigeon pox last?

Pox disease lasts for around 3-4 weeks, or even several weeks or months in undernourished
pigeons.

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