Concurrent avian malaria and avipox virus infection in translocated South Island saddlebacks (Philesturnus carunculatus carunculatus)

Concurrent avian malaria and avipox virus infection in translocated South Island saddlebacks (Philesturnus carunculatus carunculatus)
Peer reviewed


CASE HISTORY: Outbreaks of mortality in South Island saddlebacks (Philesturnus carunculatus carunculatus) that had been translocated to two offshore islands in the Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand were investigated during the summers of 2002 and 2007. Both outbreaks were associated with a severe decrease in numbers of saddlebacks of up to 60% of approximately 200 birds.
CLINICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL FINDINGS: Many of the surviving birds were in poor condition, and had skin lesions on the legs and head. Necropsy showed pale liver and lungs, and a swollen spleen. Histopathology revealed schizonts resembling Plasmodium spp. within the cytoplasm of many hepatocytes and splenic histiocytes. The skin lesions consisted of epithelial proliferations containing numerous Bollinger bodies typical of avipox virus (APV) infection. Two different APV were isolated, using PCR, from two different birds exhibiting skin lesions. Each isolate had 100% sequence homology with APV members from either Clade A or Clade B. In addition, PCR analysis revealed that the Plasmodium elongatum present in infected birds belonged to a strain that was endemic in the population of North Island saddlebacks (Philesturnus carunculatus rufusater).
DIAGNOSIS: Concurrent infections with Plasmodium spp. haemoparasites and APV were identified as the likely cause of death in the birds examined.
CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Although the Plasmodium spp. identified is thought to be endemic to saddlebacks in New Zealand, the affected birds were likely to be immunocompromised by concurrent APV infection or through lack of genetic diversity. Both the introduced mosquito Culex quinquefasicatus and the native mosquito Culex pervigilans are likely vectors for both these diseases, and the provision of water supplies less favourable to mosquito-breeding is recommended.
KEY WORDS: Avian malaria, Plasmodium elongatum, avipox, saddleback, mortality

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