Aspergillosis is a non-contagious respiratory disease caused by a fungal species known as Aspergillus. Commonly referred to as mycotic pneumonia, brooders pneumonia, or fungal pneumonia, Aspergillosis affects chickens, ducks, turkeys, waterfowl, game birds, and many other bird species.
Young birds are the most susceptible to infection, though older birds under stress or with compromised immune systems can develop chronic Aspergillosis.
Infection with Aspergillosis occurs through the inhalation of spores, typically from contaminated litter or other contaminations in the hatchery. Infection in young chicks is usually the result of inhaled spores from a contaminated hatching machine. Infections can also occur when infected eggs hatch during incubation and release large numbers of spores which are inhaled by other chicks.
Incidence and severity of the disease increases under warm, wet, or humid conditions. Dusty conditions and environments that result in high levels of ammonia are also perfect breeding grounds for Aspergillosis. That’s why contaminated poultry bedding is one of the most common sources of infection.
Signs and Symptoms
Aspergillosis mainly affects the respiratory system of infected birds, invading the trachea, air sacs and lungs. Infection is typically described as acute or chronic.
Acute infections typically occur in young chickens. Symptoms develop in the first 3-5 days after exposure. The most common symptom is rapid, open-mouthed breathing (gasping) due to gradual air passage obstruction. As the disease progresses, young chickens will eventually exhibit lack of appetite, emaciation, increased thirst, and drowsiness. Eye swelling, blindness, and torticollis (twisting of the neck to one side) are also typical of Aspergillosis infections.
Chronic forms of Aspergillosis usually affect older birds or birds with compromised immune systems. Chronic infections can lead to severe respiratory distress, eye discharge, blindness, and neurological dysfunction.
How It Is Spread
Aspergillosis in birds is not contagious from bird to bird. Birds are typically infected by inhaling spores found in the environment through moldy litter, poor quality feed, and poor bedding management practices. Factors that promote infection of Aspergillosis include:
- Warm, wet environments
- Poorly ventilated areas
- High humidity environments
- Long-term feed storage
- Impaired immunity
Treatment of Aspergillosis
There is no known treatment for Aspergillosis in infected birds, so prevention is key to controlling the disease and protecting flocks.
In order to effectively prevent Aspergillosis infection in your flock, it’s important to control the factors that can lead to the growth of Aspergillus spores.
Practice Good Sanitation
Poor chicken house sanitation leads to food and bedding contamination and promotes the growth of fungus. Be sure to clean and disinfect equipment and air ducts in hatchery and brooder areas regularly. Thoroughly clean feed and water utensils regularly to avoid cross contamination of feed or bedding supplies. Frequently relocate feeders and water dispensers to discourage mold build-up.
Safeguard Feed Supplies
Store feed in clean, dry containers to avoid contamination with mold spores. Discard uneaten food to avoid fungal growth. Avoid dusty feeds that can spread fungal spores throughout the environment.
Replace bedding regularly to discourage the growth of fungus. Discard wet bedding as soon as possible.
Store eggs destined for hatching away from dusty areas that may contain spores. Handle, transport, and store eggs to avoid sweating, which creates moisture that promotes fungal growth.
It’s clear that Aspergillosis is a deadly disease that can adversely affect the productivity of your chicken flock and result in financial losses. The good news is that there are steps you can take to protect your chickens and minimize exposure to Aspergillosis infections. Practicing good sanitation, safeguarding feed, regularly replacing bedding, and handling and transporting eggs properly are the keys to a healthy, happy chicken flock.
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