10 Things You May Not Know About Avian Bornavirus

Animal Genetics’ Arne DeKloet just returned from the AAV (Association of Avian Veterinarians) conference in San Diego, and one thing that struck him was that there was a lot of interest in avian bornavirus, but not much authoritative information available. So to clear up some misconceptions about bornavirus, here are ten facts that you may not know about the disease:

1. Bornavirus causes Borna Disease, which attacks the nervous system. Symptoms of the disease range from relatively small changes in behavior to fatal neurological damage.

2. Borna disease was first recognized in 1885 in horses in Borna, Germany, but has since been found to infect a wide variety of animals including foxes, cats, dogs, cows, and sheep.

3. In 2000, Borna virus was detected in wild birds, and was officially named “Avian bornavirus” (ABV) in 2008 when the virus was found in parrots. To date, ABV has been recognized in birds from Asia, Europe, Africa and South America.

4. Research is ongoing, but it appears that ABV is transferred from close contact with an infected bird or the feces of an infected bird.  Animal Genetics is conducting research on the possible transmission of the virus from an infected mother to the offspring via the egg.

5. Research indicates that ABV is connected to the onset of Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD). The virus can cause an infected bird’s immune system to over-respond, damaging the digestive system. At Animal Genetics, we have tested over 500 birds with a PDD diagnosis that also have ABV antibodies and Borna virus RNA.

6. ABV may also be a causative agent for other conditions such as skin inflammation, feather plucking, self mutilation, and chronic bacterial and fungal infections. Our own research indicates that there is a connection between ABV and feather plucking.

7. Birds infected with ABV may not show any symptoms of Borna disease or PPD for years or even decades. It is not completely clear whether birds that carry the virus, but remain asymptomatic, are still able to infect other birds.

8. While there is no method of prevention at this time, Animal Genetics is currently testing a vaccine that will prevent the spread of ABV. If a bird is suspected to have ABV, disinfect the area with a solution of 1 part bleach to 50 parts water with a small amount of dish soap.

9. The presence of ABV can be detected by two panels that Animal Genetics offers – serology (rELISA) which tests for immunological exposure to specific ABV antigens, and direct rtPCR which detects the presence of ABV-specific RNA.

10. To test for ABV, a serum sample should be used for the ELISA panel and plucked breast feathers are needed for the rtPCR panel. Animal Genetics is working on testing from fecal and blood samples, but at this time serum and chest feathers are the only reliable ways to detect ABV exposure and infection in live birds.

If you have any other questions about Avian Bornavirus or if you would like Animal Genetics to test for the virus, please contact our office in the U.S. at (850) 386-1145 and toll free at (800) 514-9672.

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