Pigeon Paramyxovirus

Avian Paramyxovirus type 1 in pigeons (PPMV1) is a viral infection that is present in most countries that can spread rapidly and cause high rates of pigeon illness and death.

The first Australian detection was in Victoria in August 2011. It has since spread and become endemic in domestic and feral pigeon population in Victoria, NSW, Tasmania and South Australia. The disease was also reported to affect a spotted turtle dove (an introduced species) and a predatory sparrow hawk (a native species).

The virus

Paramyxovirus strains are generally capable of affecting other avian species including poultry. But so far, there has not been any detection of natural infection of poultry.

Human infection with this virus is rare and usually occurs only in people who have close, direct contact with infected birds. The virus causes mild flu-like symptoms.

PPMV1 is a very serious disease that can kill up to 100 per cent of pigeons in some lofts.

Some of the signs of PPMV1 infection include:

  • lethargy
  • vomiting or regurgitation
  • green diarrhoea
  • twisting of the neck
  • circling
  • head flicking
  • laboured breathing
  • runny eyes and beak.

Sick birds can die within 3 days. The infection spreads easily between birds and there is no specific treatment.

Pigeon with twisted neck

Pigeon with twisted neck

Infected birds may shed the virus in their faeces and other discharges, contaminating the environment (including feed, water, equipment and human clothing) and allowing transmission to other birds. PPMV1 can survive for several weeks in the environment, especially in cool weather.

The spread of PPMV1 is typically due to the movement of birds, but it can be carried in eggs or on equipment used with pigeons, as well as on people and their clothing.

Diagnosis

The clinical signs and gross pathological changes, if any, are not specific to PPMV1. Many other bird diseases can cause similar signs.

Confirmation of PPMV1 requires laboratory analysis.

Any suspected dead bird or samples (organs or swabs) should be forward in an Esky with ice packs to AgriBio state laboratory, located at La Trobe's Melbourne campus in Bundoora.

A person who suspects that birds may have PPMV1 should immediately contact a vet and phone the our Customer Service Centre on 136 186.

Protection from spread

In assuming responsibility for protecting their pigeons, keepers should consider implementing biosecurity measures and vaccination for their birds.

Organisers of Pigeons' shows and races are encouraged to ensure that only vaccinated birds are allowed to take part in these activities.

Biosecurity

Pigeon owners´ primary defence against PPMV1 is to prevent the introduction of the disease into their loft by the implementation of the following biosecurity procedures:

  • cleaning and disinfecting footwear and washing hands and clothes after visiting other birds
  • keeping lofts and equipment clean
  • disinfecting equipment used to house, transport, feed and water other birds
  • preventing wild birds and feral pigeons (and their droppings) from having contact with your pigeons or contaminating their feed or water
  • quarantine for at least 2 weeks any new birds or birds returning from a show or a race
  • limiting any unnecessary visitors to your pigeons' loft.

Vaccination

There is no currently registered PPMV1 vaccine for use in pigeons in Australia. However, Newcastle Disease (ND) vaccines registered for use in chickens are available for 'off label' use in pigeons with the written instruction of a veterinarian. The ND vaccine provides adequate protection against PPMV1 and minimise the potential impact of spread of infection.

Research trials on the use of ND vaccines showed that they are safe to use in pigeons, and if pigeons are vaccinated properly twice they are likely to produce antibody levels that should protect them against PPMV1.

Inactivated (killed) ND vaccines in 2 applications at 4 weeks apart are used to vaccinate pigeons against PPMV1. An inactivated vaccine is a vaccine that contains a virus that has been killed. The vaccine also contains adjuvants to stimulate stronger and longer lasting immunity.

Injection sites are subcutaneously (under the skin) at the base of the neck or in the loose skin between the leg and the body.

Inactivated vaccines must not be frozen. They should be kept at the manufacturer's recommended temperature, which is usually between 4 to 8ºC.

Only healthy pigeons in healthy flocks should be vaccinated. It is important to vaccinate all the pigeons in a loft to optimise loft protection. Young pigeons are often given the first vaccine dose at 4 weeks of age and the second vaccine dose 4 weeks later. An annual booster vaccination is highly recommended.

Reporting

PPMV1 is a notifiable disease in Victoria and a person who suspects that birds may have PPMV1 must immediately contact an Inspector of Livestock at Agriculture Victoria within 12 hours of suspicion or confirmation of the disease. This can be done by calling the Customer Service Centre on 136 186.

Page last updated: 27 Nov 2020