In 2016 an outbreak was identified in Western Australia and over the next few years there were seperate outbreaks identified in other Australia states, Europe and New Zealand. Last year (2019) at the beginning of March there was a notification of the presence of a Rotavirus outbreak in racing pigeons in both Auckland and Christchurch.
This year due to the corona virus lock down many of the racing pigeon events have been cancelled. But, it would be prudent to prepare for the time that the racing birds are flying again. People with non racing pigeons should still be aware as mixing with racing pigeons is quite common.
The most common clinical signs include:
1) Rapid weight loss
4) Reluctance to go out and fly
5) Birds often appear sick and die within 24 hrs
Mortality in New Zealand has been reported at around 5% with some flocks even higher.
Post Mortem findings include changes in the liver, spleen and intestine. In acute cases hemorrhagic enteritis is often present.
Treatment is often supportive. As enteritis results in diarrhoea and electrolyte and fluid loss. As Rotavirus is a virus, antibiotics do not have a direct effect on the course of the disease. However supportive care with sulphonamides can help protect against bacterial over growth and coccidia out breaks. Pectin and other mucosal protectant compounds such as Slippery Elm can be given to enhance gut protection and absorb toxins. Canker control is important with dosing of Dimetrasol/Turbusole in the drinking water at low doses an important consideration. Even very low doses of virkon to the drinking water to sanitize will reduce the challenge. Addition support with electrolytes and probiotics can also help support sick birds.
Vaccinations do not exist for this virus and immunity once exposed seems to only last for 6 months. However, "Poovac" a preparation of infective pigeon poo used to deliberately infect a loft has been used successfully but is not without some risks. Developed by the Melbourbe Bird Veterinary Clinic the application and research can be read about on their website. Limited preventative options mean each year the flocks will be vulnerable to the infection again. Infection is mostly faecal/oral in nature. There role of crop milk and antibodies is unknown but it is likely to generate some.protection for the squabs.
Prevention is key. Good biosecurity starts with limiting exposure and keeping a closed loft. This is difficult in many active lofts. Hygiene and loft cleaning is also key. Seperation of faeces and birds can help reduce infection rates. Water sanitation as discribed above. Flock surveillance is also important with many birds dying very acutely after infection. So visit you flock daily if possible to inspect for any clinical signs.
A detailed 31 ph report was prepared by a prominent bird veterinarian in Melboure, Dr. Colin Walker, can be read at the link below. Only for the very Nerdiest amongst us;)