Pigeon rotavirus causes a highly infectious and fatal disease. The virus was first detected in racing pigeons in Western Australia a year ago and has now spread to the eastern states causing significant suffering and killing thousands of racing pigeons as well as those owned by pigeon fanciers. Pigeon racing over the last year has probably been the main cause of spread from the west to eastern Australia with the virus now having been detected in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and most recently Queensland.
Infected birds may show signs of depression, vomiting, diarrhoea and hunched posture. Sick birds usually die within 12 to 24 hours with deaths continuing in infected lofts for approximately 7 days. Mortality rates as high as 30% have been reported in some affected lofts. Some birds who survive may remain infected with the virus for several months, acting as a potential source for other birds. It is believed that the virus is specific to pigeons but the potential impact on closely related native birds is unknown.
There are currently no vaccines available to prevent infection nor effective treatments that can eliminate the virus from sick birds to allow recovery. Due to the speed with which the virus causes death, even supportive treatment to minimise vomiting and diarrhoea and resultant dehydration is unlikely to be effective. The racing pigeon industry is currently working on developing a vaccine which is the most promising option to prevent infection and disease in the long term.
Relevant state departments have issued advice to pigeon owners (racing and fanciers) to implement strict measures to protect their own birds and to minimise spread of rotavirus to other flocks.
General recommendations include:
Avoid mixing pigeons (e.g. cancel racing, shows, sales) from unaffected and affected lofts
Report any suspicious signs of illness in owned or wild pigeons as soon as possible to the relevant State department to allow investigations to be conducted to rule out possible exotic avian disease
For infected lofts, maintain strict biosecurity measures, including (but not limited to) not selling pigeons to unaffected lofts, maintaining good loft hygiene and restricting visitors
For pigeon owners in unaffected areas, maintain strict biosecurity measures, including (but not limited to) ensuring no pigeon introductions from affected lofts, cleaning and disinfecting of second hand equipment, restricting visitors and avoiding contact with other pigeons but if this is unavoidable then cleaning clothing/boots after contact with other pigeons to prevent the possible entry and spread of the rotavirus
The RSPCA strongly supports these recommendations for the pigeon industry to help prevent the spread of the virus and the resultant suffering, distress and death of pigeons.
NSW Department of Primary Industries Pigeon virus communique July 2017
WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Pigeon rotavirus in Western Australia
Agriculture Victoria Rotavirus mortality of pigeons