An outbreak of avian malaria in captive yellowheads / mohua ( Mohoua ochrocephala )

An outbreak of avian malaria in captive yellowheads / mohua ( Mohoua ochrocephala )
Peer reviewed


CASE HISTORY: Eight mohua, or yellowheads (Mohoua ochrocephala), were held in a large open aviary over the summer months of 2003–2004, following their capture for captive breeding purposes. Two birds died of transportation trauma shortly after arrival, one became ill and died a month later, and another four died within a 2-week period in February 2004. The eighth bird also became ill at this time but survived for a year following treatment with chloroquine and doxycycline.
CLINICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL FINDINGS: The affected birds were depressed, lethargic and dyspnoeic. Necropsy of three birds showed a slightly pale and swollen liver and spleen. Impression smears of the liver of one bird revealed schizonts resembling Plasmodium spp. within the cytoplasm of many hepatocytes, which was confirmed histopathologically. Similar protozoal organisms were seen within splenic histiocytes and pulmonary endothelial cells of 5/6 birds. Electron microscopy identified these as protozoal schizonts containing merozoites of similar size and structure to those of Plasmodium spp.
DIAGNOSIS: The birds were infected with a protozoal haemoparasite resembling Plasmodium spp.; asexual stages within hepatocytes and endothelial cells of the lung and spleen were typical of this organism.
CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: The mohua captured from west Otago were highly susceptible to avian malaria as they came from an isolated population that was likely to be naïve and have had no previous contact with this organism. The birds were probably infected by bites from mosquitoes feeding off local populations of blackbirds subsequently found to be infected with Plasmodium spp.
KEY WORDS: Avian malaria, Plasmodium, mohua, yellowhead, mortality, anaemia

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