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Avian trichomonosis mortality events in band-tailed pigeons (Patagioenas fasciata) in California during winter 2014–2015


Avian trichomonosis is an upper digestive tract disease of birds typically caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae. In California (U.S.A), trichomonosis is known to cause periodic epidemics in the Pacific Coast band-tailed pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata monolis), a migratory upland game bird. We summarize the mortality events that occurred during winter 2014-2015 including the duration, estimated mortality, pathology, and genetic identity of infecting parasites. Increased mortality was reported from locations in 25 counties between November 2014 and June 2015. Based on reports, carcasses received, wildlife rehabilitation center admissions, site visits, and regular monitoring by local personnel, total mortality was estimated at 18,440. At necropsy, birds had multiple coalescing lesions in the oral cavity involving the upper palate and/or around the tongue and glottis, esophagus, crop, and/or proventriculus. Birds collected from Contra Costa (63.9%; 30/47); Marin (75.0%; 6/8), San Mateo (46.7%; 14/30), and Santa Clara (35.0%; 37/106) counties were more likely to have lesions extending into their head involving muscle, sinuses, ear canals, eye sockets, and bone (χ2 = 62.9; df = 11; P < 0.001). Histopathologic findings included pharyngitis, esophagitis, myositis, and air sacculitis of the pneumatic bone of the skull. Mixed bacterial colonies were found multifocally at the fronts of the necrosis in six of the eleven birds examined histologically. Infecting trichomonads included T. gallinae subtype A2 (n = 5), un-typed T. gallinae (n = 4), mixed infection with T. gallinae subtype A2 and T. stableri (n = 1), and mixed infection with un-typed T. gallinae and T. stableri (n = 1). The winter 2014-2015 epidemic was the largest on record in terms of duration, locations, and birds affected. Infection dynamics may have been exacerbated by the drought in California. Increased monitoring of band-tailed pigeons is needed to understand the long-term impacts of large-scale mortality events on their population.

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