Pigeon rotavirus in Western Australia

Page last updated: Monday, 22 June 2020 - 2:12pm

Pigeon rotavirus was first detected in Western Australia as a result of investigation of a disease outbreak in racing pigeons in May and June 2016. Clinical signs in affected birds include depression, vomiting, diarrhoea, regurgitation and hunched postures. Sick birds usually die within 12 to 24 hours, with deaths in affected lofts continuing for about seven days.

Pigeon rotavirus in Western Australia

Pigeon rotavirus was first detected in Western Australia as a result of investigation of a disease outbreak in racing pigeons in May and June 2016. Several lofts of racing pigeons showed signs of diarrhoea, regurgitation and death. Mortalities were variable, but were up to 20% in some lofts.

At the time of the disease outbreak, the cause of the disease was not known. All birds tested negative for the reportable diseases avian influenza, pigeon paramyxovirus type 1 and Newcastle disease. The DPIRD (then DAFWA) Diagnostics and Laboratory Services (DDLS) invested considerable resources to undertake further intensive molecular and virological investigation using a wide array of available technology. Samples were also sent to CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratories (AAHL) and Charles Stuart University.

Electron microscopy performed showed virus particles in affected birds consistent with a reovirus. Reovirus was considered a strong possibility as a cause of the pigeon mortalities, however they are widely distributed in healthy bird populations and in most cases do not cause clinical disease. Subsequent PCR testing in 2017 by AAHL and DDLS of a selection of WA cases from 2016 confirmed the virus to be pigeon rotavirus serotype G18P. Subsequently, similar pigeon disease and mortalities also occurred in other states which have also been diagnosed as pigeon rotavirus serotype G18P.

Treatment and prevention

There is no vaccine currently available to protect birds against this virus.

It is understood that the pigeon industry is currently investigating opportunities to develop a new vaccine. Australia has a rigorous regulatory framework for assessing and approving veterinary vaccines to ensure their safety and efficacy. As part of this, there are strict penalties for the illegal importation and use of veterinary vaccines, including but not limited to up to 10 years' imprisonment and fines of up to $1,800,000 under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cwlth). 

If you see signs of disease that could be due to rotavirus infection, contact your private vet or your local Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) Field Vet. It is important for bird keepers to continue to report any suspicious signs of disease so that the reportable diseases avian influenza, pigeon paramyxovirus type 1 and Newcastle disease can continue to be ruled out. Where an emergency animal disease or a new or emerging disease is suspected, DPIRD provides laboratory testing free of charge.

Rotavirus in pigeons is not a reportable disease so the WA pigeon industry will continue to prevent spread of the virus by maintaining good biosecurity practices.

You can report sick birds with higher than usual numbers of deaths to your private vet, your local DPIRD vet or the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on 1800 675 888.

Contact information

Hennie Swanepoel
+61 (0)8 9368 3076