CORONAVIRUS IN POULTRY

This pandemic is the first time many people have heard of the coronavirus, “However in the animal health the coronavirus family is an old acquaintance” said Drs Ursula Hofle and Christain Gortzazr from the university of castilla La Mancha in Spain. The common Infectious Bronchitis in poultry is caused by the coronavirus family.

Infectious bronchitis is a highly contagious viral respiratory infection of chickens, however the virus will also infect the urogenital and gastrointestinal tracts to establish a systematic infection. The clinical signs of infectious bronchitis are non-specific and so laboratory tests are required to confirm diagnosis. Clinical signs commonly include

  • Coughing,
  • Sneezing
  • Gasping in young birds,
  • Loss of appetite and
  • Wet Litter.
  • Feed intake decreases sharply and
  • Growth is retarded
  • Sharp drop in egg production in layers with production dropping to near zero in few days.
  • Production of small soft-shelled, irregular-shaped eggs are produced.

Figure 1 Egg shell defects caused by infectious bronchitis Source: Merck Veterinary Manua

Mortality in young birds can be high (up to 30%), however minimal mortality is experienced in older birds (> 5 weeks old). Recovery occurs within 3 – 4 weeks; however, some flocks never regain an economical rate of lay after the infection.

What causes Infectious Bronchitis?

Infectious Bronchitis is caused by a coronavirus. The virus is highly variable and new serotypes and genotypes continue to appear. The virus dies quickly outside of the host but can spread through the air and can travel considerable distances during an active outbreak. It can also be spread via fomites such as clothing, poultry crates and equipment. The disease is not egg transmitted and the virus does not survive much more than one week in the house when poultry are not present.

Prevention and treatment of infectious bronchitis

The highly contagious nature of this disease generally results in all susceptible birds on the premises becoming infected, There is no treatment for this disease but the goodnews is that it can be vaccinated against. Secondary infections with bacterial diseases are common and antibiotics may reduce losses from these infections. The virus is easily destroyed by heat and ordinary disinfectants. In young chickens it is helpful to increase the brooder temperature and to optimise environmental conditions. Chickens that are kept as layers should be vaccinated. These vaccines are usually a modified or selected strain of the infectious bronchitis virus and therefore the vaccine used should contain specific virus known to be present in the area. Vaccine is usually added to the drinking water, but may be dropped into the eye or nostril or used as a spray.

Coronaviruses are classified into alpha, beta, gamma and delta. They are responsible for Respiratory, Enteric, Neurological, Renal and Hepatic diseases in affected bodies. The avian Infectious Bronchitis coronavirus (the one that affects poultry) is a gamma coronavirus which does not infect humans while Covid 19 is a beta corona virus.

These viruses exist in human and animals but it is important to note:

  • Covid 19 is not proven to affect birds and is unlikely to do so. So poultry does not appear to be at risk.
  • Commercial poultry and its products (meat, egg and value added products) are not a source of coronavirus.

The high level of spreading of coronavirus further highlights the importance and necessity of biosecurity, disinfection, cleaning and health surveillance. To combat it, it is important to know that the envelop of coronaviruses is susceptible to soap and common disinfectants.

Having the knowledge of what is happening with Covid 19 in humans will give us an insight into what happens when our birds are infected with Infectious Bronchitis. Did I hear you say but they are not humans, well they are animals but they feel pains too, and their pain is reflected in their economic values, which is the major reason we invest in them. I hope you won’t have to be forced to vaccinate your birds against Infectious Bronchitis next time. While we all become responsible to help in combating this pandemic, we have to keep producing chicken and eggs as we have to feed.

 

Reference.

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