Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease (PBFD) is a virus threatening the survival of rare Australian parrot species, including the western ground and orange-bellied parrots. These species have fewer than 50 birds remaining in the wild.
The disease, which can lead to starvation and death as feathers moult and beaks soften is one of the main threats to wild and occasionally captive kept parrots.
Last week a team for researchers led by Charles Sturt University revealed the molecular makeup of the deadly disease in the Nature Communications journal. The team has been working on finding a solution for this illness since 2009. SCU Professor in Veterinary Pathobiology Shane Raidal said the finding is a significant step towards finding new approaches to restore threatened parrot populations.
“By confirming how the viral structure forms, we can begin to develop a vaccine to interrupt these processes, ” he said.
Barry Baker, Chair of the national Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team said, the virus has undoubtedly contributed to the Tasmanian species’ dwindling numbers.
“There was an outbreak a couple of years ago in the wild and we’re aware that some of the chicks had been affected by it and that certainly drove a lot of action to get on top of it”, he told AAP.
“A vaccine is a critical step that will make transferring brid from captivity to the wild a lot easier that it currently is.”
Psittacine Beak & Feather Disease (PBFD)
The virus causing this disease is a member of the Circoviridae. The disease is thought to be specific to birds, with parrots known to be particularly susceptible to PBFD. The virus is most commonly seen in Cockatoos, Macaws, African Grey Parrots, Ringneck parakeets, Eclectus Parrots and Lovebirds, but it is not limited to these species only.
The transmission of the virus from one individual to another is mainly through direct contact, inhalation or ingestion of aerosols, crop-feeding, infected fecal material and feather dust. It can also be transmitted via contaminated surfaces such as bird carriers, utensils, feeding dishes, clothing and nesting materials.
The main symptoms of the virus are irreversible loss of feathers and softening of the beak. In most cases the outcome is fatal to the bird and leads to premature death by the secondary fungal infections.
Strict isolation of all diseased birds to halt the spread of the disease. DNA testing of all birds of susceptible species to rule out latent infection. DNA testing of aviary equipment and environment to test for possible contamination.
At present there is no know treatment for the virus.