Avian Malaria – Protecting Your Stud

Avian MalariaOn 14th August 2011, the (UK) Sunday Times correspondent, Lois Rogers, reported on an unexpected consequence of climate change.

Monitoring projects have shown that over thirty species of native wild birds in this country are dying from avian malaria.

Laszlo Garamszegi is a world expert on avian malaria, and his study has looked at infection data in over 3,000 species of wild birds worldwide since 1944.

Epidemic

In Britain, whole populations are showing massively increased mortality rates from the disease as avian malaria reaches epidemic proportions.

The house sparrow, for example, has recently shown an infection rate of 31%, as against a figure of just 9.4% in 1960. In this one species alone, the overall population, currently calculated as approximately 13.4million, has declined since 1970 by a staggering 67%.

Other wild species known to be suffering similar rises in infection rates include the tawny owl and the song thrush.

A survey by the British Trust for Ornithology found that numbers of nightingales have fallen by 90% over the past 40 years and concerns have been raised that the species may face extinction.

Climate Change

A one-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures has been sufficient to favour the rapid growth of infection-carrying mosquito populations and the consequent huge increase in the incidence of the parasitic disease that attacks oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

To put this in the context of implications for breeders: It seems very recent indeed that threat of H5N1 variant avian flu put breeders on their guard against opportunities for the transmission of pathogens to budgerigars. Shows were cancelled at the peak of the concern, there was much greater emphasis on bio-security, and the government imposed sanctions that restricted the movement of birds.

While there is no evidence to suggest that avian malaria can mutate into a form that can infect humans, the risks posed to budgerigar studs, particularly those where birds have access to outdoor flights, are as great.

Official Concern

Ben Sheldon, professor of Ornithology at Oxford University is concerned because, as he says:

Malaria is a significant cause of mortality, but how it is transmitted is not straightforward.

His concern is echoed by Matt Wood, a bio scientist at the University of Gloucester, who has tracked malaria amongst blue tits.

He believes that there is no way of knowing how virulent a new strain of the disease could become, because, as he says:

Things are changing very fast and we need to understand much more about which mosquito species can transmit the disease.

Protecting Your Stud

Aviary ClosedUntil more is known about this killer and effective, targeted strategies can be identified to limit its contagion rate, it probably makes sense to budgerigar breeders to adopt the same rigorous regimes to protect their birds as were used when H5N1 avian flu threatened.

At that time, the UK Government department DEFRA advised that breeders should cover open flights and outdoor aviaries to avoid contamination from the droppings of wild birds passing overhead.

In fact, this is regarded by many as good practice since birds, like other species, can carry and transmit many infections by this means.

In order to avoid contamination by the transference, into the birdroom, of droppings and other materials, DEFRA further advised that anyone entering should first thoroughly wash their hands outside in a disinfectant solution, (e.g. Virkon S or F10) and step into a trough containing the disinfectant to remove any possible contaminants. Visitors to the birdroom must also comply with this practice.

Tabloid Threat

Since this article was published in the Sunday Times, and similar coverage appeared in other newspapers, it is possible that there could be an “alarmist” reaction among the general population, sparked by tabloids with hysterical headlines of the “Budgie-with-malaria-killed-our-kitten” variety.

As with the avian flu outbreak, neighbours should be made aware of the precautions that have been taken in order to reassure them that your birds do not constitute any kind of threat.

Further Information

For more information on the spread of avian malaria:

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About the Author: Barrie began in the hobby in 1960 after becoming desperate to own a pet as a young boy who was totally interested in animal life. His first purchase was a pair of red eared waxbills. These did not withstand the Cumbrian weather, so his next foray into birds began by reading every bird book he could lay his hands on - before coming across the weekly publication, "Cage and Aviary Birds". This began his life's interest in our hobby which he regarded as a continual learning process year by year. Barrie is a great supporter of the internet and as well as www.budgerigarworld.com, he also finds www.budgerigars.co.uk to be a good source of information. However, he stresses that there is good information and poor information out there in magazines as well, but you have to think carefully and sift out the purely anecdotal from the downright bad material.

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  1. Hamish Baron says:

    Interesting article. It is my understanding that the Plasmodium spp. which is responsible for “Avian Malaria” is a blood borne protozoa or parasite as shown in the photo top right.

    To this end, another advisable piece of bio-security for one’s stud would be to prevent transmission of the disease from infected wild birds, to our (hopefully) not infected budgerigars via removal of the intermediate host which is, in fact, insects which feed on blood meal (i.e. mosquitoes, midges, biting flies).

    Covering outdoor flights to prevent droppings etc. is a very good idea, but will not prevent mosquitoes from entering the flights, or the bird room.

    If you are seriously worried about the transmission of this blood borne protozoan, I would suggest a good short term measure would be to do the following:

    • Remove all sources of stagnant water on your property – this is where mosquitoes breed. A study in Japan has found that mosquitoes that have ingested a blood meal were only found to travel 350m maximum from the source of that meal. So it makes sense to limit the number of insects breeding on your property.
    • Confine your budgerigars to an inside (protected) flight during the dusk and dawn periods of warmer months.

    That is my two cents worth – interesting food for thought though.

    Thanks for posting Barrie.

    Hamish Baron – New Zealand

  2. Paul May says:

    Very interesting Barrie….and worrying at the same time.

    Thank goodness my birds are locked in at dusk, and can’t get out until I let them out the next day.

    In addition, my outer flight is covered, so fingers crossed, they are safe – well for now anyway.

    Paul May, UK

  3. Fantastic article by Barrie and I’m also impressed with Hamish Baron’s analytical comments.

    Here I would like to draw your attention to ants & other insects in the bird room and how they are playing a role or helping mosquitoes:

    • Transporting seeds from one point to another – especially in the holes or around wet ground
    • They provide alerts and point out the wet places
    • Mosquitoes & mostly insects loves dark colours/garbage to stay in

    Now a simple solution for the ‘control’ and prevention of Malaria – use basil leaves ( Naiz Boo in regional Urdu Language ). Budgerigars love to eat them and there is no harm.

    Additionally, you can boil the basil leaves and then mix with plain water – this is especially useful to give in drops to to sick birds.

    I hope this will help many breeders around the world – especially where avian products are not easily available.

    Thank you very much.

    Habib Ur Rehman – Pakistan

  4. Vivienne Gould says:

    An interesting and readable article Barrie – I wasn’t aware of avian malaria and am thankful that my new aviary has a covered roof.

    Vivienne Gould, UK

  5. Dengue is Killer?

    Below is a photo from The Express Tribune. I post it for the purposes of general awareness – because here (in Pakistan) Dengue is killing.

    It does so very silently and according to various national & international reports there have been around 2,300 plus cases reported – out of which 2,170 are in Lahore and the rest in other parts of the country.

    Dengue

    We have to take preventative action to save our own lives and our livestock.

    Last year a few budgerigar breeders and their families were affected and this year it is a terrible situation we are facing.

    Today I read a Nigel A. Tonkin article on Facebook about bio-security measures. I personally found it very informative for poultry, exotic and fancy birds breeders – as an alert.

    I shall ask Gerald to share it over here because millions of fanciers will take advantage directly and indirectly.

    A few days back one of my friends, Bader, shared Betty Berry’s message:

    “It has just been announced that Avian Flu is back and has mutated, so protect your birds by covering aviaries which do not have a roof.

    The virus is in Bangladesh, and other places, not in Pakistan yet, but please take all precautions that you can.

    If you have poultry, I’d try and have them in covered pens as well just to be on the safe side, same applies to ducks and any bird type….”

    I then went to the World Health Organisation (WHO) website and shared the latest update along with a map/location of the areas affected by Avian Influenza around the world.

    Here is the link to the Avian Influenza page on the WHO website:

     
    I don’t want to create panic – I am simply forwarding information which may be of help to fight this or ‘evil’ bug.

    Thank you.
    Habib Ur Rehman – Pakistan

  6. Hi Folks,

    Habib has asked me to comment so here goes.

    We are talking about two very different things here.

    Let’s start with the avian flu.

    This is a virus which means that vets have no drugs to treat it with. So prevention is the only answer. Good hygiene (with an anti-viral disinfectant such as Avisafe) is the start.

    But far more important is to support the immune system.

    The immune system is actually very good at dealing with most viruses but it needs good nutrition to work properly.

    If you wait until you see symptoms you will have allowed the virus to get established and make it that much harder for the immune system to deal with it.

    So the fundamental is a good vitamin and mineral supplement and preferably some good immune supporting herbs.

    Our Daily Essentials3 and EasyBird products contain both.

    Having said that “after you have seen symptoms it is too late”, I would actually suggest you give Guardian Angel to any sick bird. This is a really powerful immune support product with a great track record. You could give it to all birds every day if you wanted to but it is expensive.

    In horses (valuable ones) we actually give a 1/4 dose every day and that works really well at protecting individuals even when a virus goes through a livery yard.

    Now to the malaria.

    Keeping mosquitoes out of bird rooms is going to be tricky so this is going to be harder.

    The good old fashioned chemical anti mosquito strips aren’t available any more. So electric zappers may be a good idea.

    Again, a well functioning immune system will help.

    And there may be some drug treatments. It would be good to ask John Baker about that.

    Hope this helps a bit.
    Malcolm Green – The Birdcare Company

  7. Barrie Shutt says:

    Thanks Malcolm and Habib for your input.

    Barrie Shutt, UK

  8. Thank you very much to Malcolm Green for your excellent analytical explanation and solution.

    As per Hamish’s comments, and other doctor’s report, mosquitoes are traveling and transferring. In one TV report I heard that 40+ countries are set to be hit by Dengue. In Pakistan alone we have 4 types of Dengue:

     
    Awareness is the key to protect livestock & human life.

    In Sindh (my State) in Pakistan, experts fear an outbreak of malaria:

     
    Habib Ur Rehman – Pakistan

  9. Uzair Rasool says:

    I have an aviary (4’x5’x11′) with 30 breeding pairs of budgerigars.

    Usually, there is good breeding and production of chicks. But recently all new chicks are dying in a time limit of 2 to 9 days – all pairs have the same issue.

    In 2 weeks I lost more then 100.

    I can’t understand why this is happening – especially with new born chicks not with their parents those have not any casualties yet.

    Today I noticed that a number of mosquitoes were roaming around and in my aviary. So after reading this article I’m thinking that this may have some connection with the mortality of my birds.

    If this real, please tell me how to get rid of them – by means of medicines or special type of treatment.

    Help me please.

    Uzair Rasool Mastoi, Karachi, Pakistan

  10. Dear Uzair Rasool Mastoi

    I shall request that you read the above article and comments, where you will find the solution (as I suggested in my August 22nd post), and if you need my help in Karachi then feel free to contact me.

    My contact number an be found here:

    http://budgerigarsociety.com/helpline.asp

    Do not worry it can be controlled easily.

    Temperatures here reach 38+ degrees (and elsewhere 40+) but still these ‘killer bugs’ are disturbing nationally.

    I would like to share one more article of Nigel A. Tonkin which may help you in understanding this particular health issue.

    http://www.budgerigarworld.com/nigel-tonkin-on-bird-health/

    Keep in touch.

    Habib Ur Rehman, Pakistan

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