New parasite kills pigeons

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Deadly parasite kills Berlin's pigeons: researchers investigate relationships

A new plague is currently worrying many pigeon fanciers: numerous stocks of noble breeding pigeons are affected by a still relatively unknown infectious disease. After a few weeks, the animals die of the consequences of the parasitic disease. For the first time, scientists at the Free University of Berlin (TU Berlin) have successfully identified the parasite. It is an intruder that is already on the rise worldwide. Several studies on pigeons that have already died could soon provide important information. A skip to humans or other farm animals has not yet been determined.

A new animal disease among pigeons is on the advance. Veterinarians and researchers still know very little about the often fatal disease. Now brain examinations of dead animals should provide initial conclusions, as reported by the TU Berlin.

Symptoms: diarrhea and brain inflammation The animal disease first appeared in 2006, as the veterinary institute director Achim Gruber explained. The first symptom in the animals is diarrhea, the expert explained. Pigeons who did not die from the diarrhea developed brain inflammation after seven to eight weeks. As a result, the animals moved "uncoordinated, staggered or simply fell over". Due to their disturbed motor skills, they quickly become prey for griffins such as hawks and falcons .

If the pigeons are torn by other birds, the parasite gets into the intestines of the birds of prey by eating the muscle meat. There it nests in the intestinal cells, and several million tiny new parasites emerge, "explained Gruber. Falcons or hawks do not die of the pathogen themselves, but pass it on to the pigeons through their droppings. Water or feed are produced with the droppings Contaminated, the parasites get back into the pigeons.The research team Gruber, Philipp Olias and Michael Lierz discovered that the animals are only intermediate hosts for the parasite.

Similar transmission routes in other animals Scientists have already observed a similar infection route in cattle. “Besnoitia” get under the skin of the animals and trigger inflammatory areas there. Here, too, birds served as intermediate hosts. The named pathogen is currently spreading to southern Germany in southern Germany.

No treatment possible yet "Vaccination against the pigeon parasite would be possible," says Gruber. However, a special vaccine does not yet exist and has yet to be developed. According to the expert, the development time would take at least four years. In addition, there would have to be a pharmaceutical company that would develop a drug. The following sales market is a problem. This should be big enough.

The parasite was already observed in the USA in 2011. "It is not certain whether there are other cases in Germany," reports the head of the institute. The symptoms caused by the pathogen are similar to other diseases.

No transmissions to humans currently observed The pathogen has so far been shown to be harmless to humans. Nevertheless, pigeons should not be touched because they are carriers of various diseases, "warns Gruber. An infection of chickens, which could also be torn by birds of prey, has also not yet been determined.

Brain inflammation without pathogens The research team now wants to analyze the brains of the deceased animals in more detail. Eventually the pigeons contracted brain inflammation. The special thing: the meningitis is present without the pathogen in the head, "explained the veterinarian. Until now, scientists had always been in the dark when it came to investigating the cause of such cases. Therefore, the German Research Foundation also supports the study. The question now is "How can the inflammation develop in the brain without pathogens?" (Sb)

Also read:
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Image: Ulrich Velten /

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