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A pelagic outbreak of avian cholera in North American gulls: Scavenging as a primary mechanism for transmission?

August 19, 2016

Avian cholera, caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida, is an endemic disease globally, often causing annual epizootics in North American wild bird populations with thousands of mortalities. From December 2006 to March 2007, an avian cholera outbreak caused mortality in marine birds off the coast of Atlantic Canada, largely centered 300–400 km off the coast of the island of Newfoundland. Scavenging gulls (Larus spp.) were the primary species detected; however, mortality was also identified in Black-legged Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) and one Common Raven (Corvus corax), a nonmarine species. The most common gross necropsy findings in the birds with confirmed avian cholera were acute fibrinous and necrotizing lesions affecting the spleen, air sacs, and pericardium, and nonspecific hepatomegaly and splenomegaly. The etiologic agent, P. multocida serotype 1, was recovered from 77 of 136 carcasses examined, and confirmed or probable avian cholera was diagnosed in 85 cases. Mortality observed in scavenging gull species was disproportionately high relative to their abundance, particularly when compared to nonscavenging species. The presence of feather shafts in the ventricular lumen of the majority of larid carcasses diagnosed with avian cholera suggests scavenging of birds that died from avian cholera as a major mode of transmission. This documentation of an outbreak of avian cholera in a North American pelagic environment affecting primarily scavenging gulls indicates that offshore marine environments may be a component of avian cholera dynamics.

Publication Year 2016
Title A pelagic outbreak of avian cholera in North American gulls: Scavenging as a primary mechanism for transmission?
DOI 10.7589/2015-12-342
Authors Michelle Wille, Scott McBurney, Gregory J. Robertson, Sabine Wilhelm, David S. Blehert, Catherine Soos, Ron Dunphy, Hugh Whitney
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Diseases
Index ID 70175891
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center