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by Adel Salem(Clinical Laboratory Scientist)


I have opted to publish this article to alert fanciers who buy pigeons indiscriminately, following my experience in buying 14 Egyptian swifts from a loft in Los Angeles area. As a Microbiologist, I have failed to diagnose the problem until nearly 90 days from the date of purchase with the help of the county of San Diego and the State of California Veterinarian laboratories. Many birds were showing sings of neglect, such as infestation with feather parasites, thin pectoral muscles, watery nose and eyes. While that was not a tip for a major problem, it should have been a clue for many to stay back. The article will include the events that led me to buying the symptomatic birds and their diagnosis. Also will discuss the disease and its implications and how you could personally avoid that yourself.

Why did I buy the birds?

The seller phoned me and said that "I had to sell the house and the entire flock to go back to the country of origin by March 2008 and need help to liquidate the birds". I did not doubt his recommendations or his choice of picking the birds for me. My desire to add fresh imported blood made no reluctance in my mind to buy what appeared to be unhealthy bunch.

Sequence of events and summary

The birds were purchased in June 2007 and quarantined about 40 feet from the main lofts. They were treated for feather parasites and IVOMIV for internal parasites. A week later I used the antibiotic Doxicycline and continued with vitamins to get red of what I thought was a potent virus or possible Chlamydia. I added Ciprofloxacin a week later for possible bacterial infection with notable improvement for some birds.

The seller also allowed me to trade few birds, but revealed to have the same problems. After the accustomed period of the required quarantine (30 days) I pulled six birds and mated them with my birds. I had to keep the rest segregated on antibiotics to keep the symptoms away. Several eggs of the acquired and treated, but otherwise healthy had dead embryo. Some fosters have lost their ability to fly while feeding those who have hatched. I destroyed few of my birds that were mated to the acquired ones because of unexplainable severe diarrhea and loss of weight. I segregated the birds again and consulted with an avian veterinarian on the 23 rd of August 2007. The Veterinarian prescribed more Doxsicylene for the likely diagnosis of Chlamydia. He also suggested sacrificing at least one bird to get a diagnosis.

On 28th of August 2007, I went to the county with several swabs to test for Chlamydia as originally thought. All test results were negative. On September 2007, I sacrificed the sickest two birds. I sent one to the county and the other went to the state of California. In both cases the results were confirmed as Salmonellosis. The detailed report came after nearly six weeks and tested for Chlamydia, west Nile virus, Paramyxovirus and Salmonella.

What is salmonellosis?

Salmonellosis is a bacterial infection caused by Salmonella. It lives harmoniously in some animals and become transmitted to humans and birds. Most persons and birds infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most recover without treatment. However, in some persons the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness. Others become carriers. They appear healthy but pass the infection through feces to others.

What sort of germ is Salmonella?

The Salmonella germ is actually a group of bacteria that can cause diarrhea illness in humans. They are microscopic living creatures that pass from the feces of people or animals, to other people or other animals. There are many different kinds of Salmonella bacteria. Salmonella serotype Typhimurium (group B) and Salmonella serotype Enteritidis (group D) are the most common in the United States. They were discovered by an American scientist named Salmon, for whom they are named.

How can Salmonella infections be diagnosed?

Many different kinds of illnesses can cause diarrhea, fever, or abdominal cramps. Determining that Salmonella is the cause of the illness depends on laboratory tests that identify Salmonella in the stools or other body source of an infected host. These tests are sometimes not performed unless the laboratory is instructed specifically to look for the organism. Once Salmonella has been identified, further testing can determine its specific type, and which antibiotics could be used to treat.

Why have I failed to detect and treat the problem earlier?

It is not uncommon not to detect Salmonella in feces while it is deeply imbedded in otherbody sites, causing septicemia (blood infection) and fever. All stool cultures that were done on the birdshadbeen negative.In many cases in a Clinical Laboratory setting, Salmonella group B become recovered from Blood cultures and other parts of the body that were gone undetected in multiple stool cultures.

How can Salmonella infections be treated?

Salmonella infections usually resolve in 5-7 days and often do not require treatment unless the patient becomes severely dehydrated or the infection spreads from the intestines. Often Antibiotics are not usually necessary unless the infection spreads from the intestines to other parts of the body, then it can be treated with Ampicillin, Gentamicin, Trimethoprim/Sulfamethoxazole, or Ciprofloxacin. Spleen, Liver, Gallbladder and various Lymph nodes are among these glands. I have used Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, Ciprofloxacin and Doxycycline individually and in combination for treatment without improvement, because the infection has gone deep in these glands in an immunocompromised host.

Are there long term consequences to a Salmonella infection?

Birds with diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. In small number of infected birds, bacteria will spread to various organs. Some will develop swelling in their wing joints, irritation of the eyes. The swollen wing joints will become filled with bacteria and cripple a good flying bird from flying anymore. Some others might carry it for a long time and pass it from the infected organ via the intestines. Others become infected as some of you might recall the historical event of the ill fated cook "Typhoid Mary".

How does Salmonella spread?

Salmonella lives in organs and the intestinal tracts of animals and birds. Salmonella are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods or drinking water contaminated with animal feces. Contaminated foods are often of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk, or eggs and could look and smell normal. In birds if the infection occurs in the Ovaries, the eggs might not hatch and or result in dead or sick squabs.

What could we prevent this illness?

There is no effective vaccine to prevent Salmonellosis. Vaccines have a short lived protection that does last long than probably 6-8 weeks. It is available for humans and pigeons as well. I have used SAL BAC on all the birds soon after receiving the positive results. Vaccines will not cure a sick bird, but will protect it temporarily until the problem is resolved. I have used half the recommended dose after two birds died instantly from the injection. I have elected to start with fresh brood of young feeders for the next season to avoid any birds that look healthy, but still harbor the disease. Since foods of animal origin may be contaminated with Salmonella, people should not eat raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, or meat. Raw eggs may be unrecognized in some foods. Cross-contamination of foods should be avoided.

How common is salmonellosis?

Every year, approximately 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. Salmonellosis is more common in the summer than winter. Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis, followed by the elderly and the immunocompromised. It is estimated that approximately 600 persons die each year with acute salmonellosis. I have no statistics for pigeons or even lofts. Most of us as it happen to me either do not know or try to cover it up fearing it will affect their reputation. That will lead to more spread of the disease and will indeed catch up with them.

What else can be done to prevent salmonellosis?

It is important for the public health department to know about cases of salmonellosis. It is important that we take sick birds if we think we have serious problem to the County, or State Public Health Laboratories so the specific type can be determined and compared with other Salmonella in the community. This way you could tell where the infection is coming from and prevent it. They will not condemn your loft. The county prices were the least expensive of my total Bills. The necropsy has cost me $60 through the county. A necropsy through my veterinarian that was sent to the state had cost me almost $200. The results were the same in both cases.

Quarantining and lofts with wire flooring will go a long ways in saving the brood. In general keep their food and water clean at all the times. I feed once a day with no left over. I keep my water source placed outside the loft. Probably my best advice is to breed only from the strongest. They are capable of purging a low count of infection on their own.

What are worst implications?

The Spreading of unknowingly sick birds and spreading the disease from one loft to another could wipe out many fragile birds. Almost all show birds are weak and can not resist diseases. Their immune system will not deter even a low count of the infectious germ. I personally had sold some of the acquired bird to another fancier; however I contacted him immediately after I received the positive results salmonella and I appreciate his understandings and were able to reach a fair solution. A similar effort should be done to follow up on any sick birds that has been scattered throughout the country. The seller will also be given a chance to express his opinion and I will publish it if he wishes me to do. If you have a similar experience, please don't hesitate to share, so we all benefit.

In lieu of the above, I would like to Address three questions for the Blog discussion:

1- Could you have avoided what I possibly went through?
2- Have you had a similar experience?
3- Were you able to come to terms with the seller?


Salmonella usually gets transmitted through fecal material. Vaccination helps protecting healthy birds from catching the infection until the matter become resolved. Birds should be culled if they require repetitive treatment for any disease. I personally don't allow fanciers in my loft, neither do I vaccinate any more.

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