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article imageBird parasite alert issued

By Tim Sandle     Aug 15, 2014 in Science
House Finch eye disease, a bacterial parasite, is infecting a wide range of species, though most do not show signs of illness, according to a new report. The disease is primarily a respiratory infection and appears on birds as conjunctivitis.
House Finch eye disease first appeared in North America in 1994 when people watching backyard feeders started seeing birds with swollen, runny eyes. Infected birds have red, swollen, runny, or crusty eyes; in extreme cases the eyes become swollen shut or crusted over, and the birds become essentially blind. Birds in this condition have trouble feeding. The disease arose from a strain of bacteria usually found in poultry.
The video below gives an idea about the severity of the disease:
Analysis of the causative agent has revealed that Mycoplasma gallisepticum is much more widespread than anyone had previously thought. Species testing positive for exposure to the bacteria include feeder favorites such as Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and American Goldfinches. But exposure was also detected in forest species, such as the Wood Thrush. While many species of songbirds can be infected by this bacterium, only House Finches regularly exhibit swollen eyes as a result of infections.
To show the extent of the problem, researchers trapped and tested nearly 2,000 individual birds from 53 species, looking for evidence of current infections or past infections by the parasite. The birds were trapped in and around Ithaca, New York, between January 2007 and June 2010. The diagnostic tests revealed that 27 species of birds were infected by this bacterium.
The research has been published in the journal PLOS ONE. The paper is titled “Diverse Wild Bird Host Range of Mycoplasma gallisepticum in Eastern North America”.
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