Pacheco's Virus Infection in Birds

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Infectious Diseases

December 11, 2008

General Information

Pacheco's disease is caused by a herpes virus. Many species of birds are susceptible. Cockatoos and Amazon parrots are very susceptible to the infection and usually die, whereas conures, such as the Nanday and Patagonian Conures seem to be resistant to the disease.

What are the signs of Pacheco's disease?

pachecos_virus_infection-1Unfortunately, there are no unique clinical signs specific for Pacheco's disease. Some birds may show only a brief period of lethargy and appetite loss before dying, whereas others may have moist droppings and/or regurgitation of clear mucus. Many birds show no clinical signs and are simply found dead, apparently normal the day before. Therefore, any sick bird could potentially be infected with Pacheco's disease. Pacheco's disease should be considered as a possible cause of any sudden death in a bird, especially if there were no clinical signs preceding death and the bird was in good body condition.

"There are no unique clinical signs specific for Pacheco's disease."

How is Pacheco's disease diagnosed?

Due to its insidious nature, diagnosis prior to death of the bird is not always possible. If the bird has died, the virus can be detected in the liver, kidneys, intestines, or feces. When Pacheco's disease is diagnosed after death, which is often the case, it is extremely important to treat other exposed birds.

How is Pacheco's disease treated?

Since birds with Pacheco's disease often die suddenly, treatment is not usually effective. An antiviral drug can reduce death rates in other exposed birds; however, it is expensive and can be difficult to administer to birds.

Can Pacheco's disease be prevented?

Some birds, such as Nanday and Patagonian Conures, carry the virus but never become ill. These species should be housed separately from other species of birds or consider removing them from a bird collection. If you have a bird that died from Pacheco's, the environment should be thoroughly disinfected and feces should be properly disposed of to prevent transmission to other birds.

A vaccine was available; it was discontinued due the number of side effects and a few associated deaths.

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