Emergence of a novel avian pox disease in British tit species

Great Tit with avian pox, by Dave Wragg.
Lawson, B., Lachish, S., Colville, K.M., Durrant, C., Peck, K.M., Toms, M.P., Sheldon, B.C., Cunningham, A.A. (2012)
PLOS ONE http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0040176

Avian pox is a viral disease with a wide host range. In Great Britain, avian pox in birds of the Paridae family was first diagnosed in a great tit (Parus major) from south-east England in 2006. An increasing number of avian pox incidents in Paridae have been reported each year since, indicative of an emergent infection. Here, we utilise a database of opportunistic reports of garden bird mortality and morbidity to analyse spatial and temporal patterns of suspected avian pox throughout Great Britain, 2006-2010. Reports of affected Paridae (211 incidents) greatly outnumbered reports in non-Paridae (91 incidents). The majority (90%) of Paridae incidents involved great tits. Paridae pox incidents were more likely to involve multiple individuals (77.3% of incidents) than were incidents in non-Paridae hosts (31.9%).

Unlike the small wart-like lesions usually seen in non-Paridae with avian pox in Great Britain, lesions in Paridae were frequently large, often with an ulcerated surface and caseous pale cream or yellow-coloured core. Spatial analyses revealed strong clustering of suspected avian pox incidents involving Paridae hosts, but only weak, inconsistent clustering of incidents involving non-Paridae hosts. There was no spatial association between Paridae and non-Paridae incidents.

We documented significant spatial spread of Paridae pox from an origin in south-east England; no spatial spread was evident for non-Paridae pox. For both host clades, there was an annual peak of reports in August/September, likely driven by similar environmental and demographic factors. Sequencing of the avian poxvirus 4b core protein produced an identical viral sequence from each of 20 great tits tested from Great Britain. This sequence was identical to that from great tits from central Europe and Scandinavia. In contrast, sequence variation was evident amongst virus tested from 17 non-Paridae hosts of 5 species. Our findings show Paridae pox to be an emerging infectious disease in wild birds in Great Britain, apparently originating from viral incursion from central Europe or Scandinavia.

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