Diagnosis and Treatment of Avian Aspergillosis

Presenters – John E.Cooper DTVM,FRCPath,FSB,CBiol,FRCVS  Diplomate, European College of Veterinary Pathologists, European Veterinary Specialist in Zoological Medicine, RCVS Specialist in Veterinary Pathology

There is little doubt that John E.Cooper DTVM,FRCPath,FSB,CBiol,FRCVS could inspire the least bird orientated vet by his obvious passion for our feathered friends. With infectious enthusiasm John led last week’s veterinary webinar organised by ‘The Webinar Vet’ discussing ‘Avian Aspergillosis’ alongside his colleague Tony Grange.

I don’t deal with birds a great deal but we certainly get poultry through the consulting room door as well as the odd parrot and occasional raptor. As aspergillosis can affect any of the avian species at least some knowledge of this condition is necessary which, in my case, was limited prior to this webinar. Primarily John wanted to make it clear that Aspergillus species is ubiquitous and spores are present ‘everywhere’. All animals are potential hosts for Aspergillus and it can have a negative effect on its hosts in a number of ways including infecting lesions, producing mycotoxins in food which can sometimes kill and can cause an allergic state especially in horses and humans.

Humans are particularly susceptible if immunocompromised and birds are possibly more inclined to pick up Aspergillus due to the way they feed. John explains that Aspergillus thrives in damp environmental conditions and birds can become infected when feeding on contaminated ground as their head is down close to the ground, bringing their nostrils in close contact with the offending organism. Stress also plays a key role in increasing a bird’s susceptibility, increasing the chances of infection in captive birds, with penguins in zoos being particularly susceptible.

John also explained that clinical signs associated with aspergillosis vary greatly from sudden death to insidious weight loss. However Tony Grange also added that, in his experience, subtle behavioural changes are the number one indicator that a bird has aspergillosis.

There are many methods of diagnosing aspergilloisis but John explained his standard method involves performing tracheal washes and culturing for fungus. However Tony explained that the gold standard for diagnosis is endoscopy enabling us to ascertain how advanced the disease is, its location and allows for biopsies to be collected.

Once diagnosed there are now a number of antimycotic medications which can be used in the treatment of aspergillosis but  the first European registered anti-fungal product for birds is about to become available. This product is a combination of itraconazole combined with cyclodextrin which helps to increase its solubility and absorption. This should be administered to birds orally for an extended period and studies have shown a 90% cure rate.

This subject area is far from my field of expertise but with the occasional bird coming through our consulting room door it is important our knowledge is regularly updated in this species even if we are exposed to birds less often than our usual array of small animals. Thanks to ‘The Webinar Vet’ aspergillosis is a condition which is now on my radar and will always spring to mind especially if I see a bird with obvious behavioural changes and hopefully, if we catch this disease early enough, I can reassure the client that something can be done.

The Stethoscope (MRCVS)

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