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Escherichia (E. coli)
coli - commonly referred to as E. coli, this Gram-negative bacterium
is a member of the Enterobacteriacae species. While many harmless or beneficial
strains of E. coli occur widely in nature, including the intestinal tracts
of humans and other vertebrates, birds and reptiles pathogenic types are
a frequent cause of both enteric and urogenital tract infections. Several
different types of pathogenic E. coli are capable of causing disease.
A particularly dangerous type is referred to as enterohemorrhagic E. coli,
or EHEC. The first such strain was identified in the United States in
1982. Since then, EHEC strains have been associated with food-borne outbreaks
traced to undercooked hamburgers, unpasteurized apple juice or cider,
salad, salami, and unpasteurized milk. EHEC strains produce toxins that
have effects similar to those produced by bacteria of the Shigella genus.
These enterotoxins can damage the lining of the intestine, cause anemia,
stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea, and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)
leading to kidney failure. In North America, HUS is the most common cause
of acute kidney failure in children.
Birds, especially psittacines, are less dependent on E. coli and rely on a more Gram-positive gut flora. However, softbills such as the passerines (finches, jays, songbirds), columbiforms (pigeons and doves), galliforms (chicken-like birds), raptors (hawks, falcons, owls), and ratites (emus and ostriches), have a high incidence of normal Gram-negative gut flora of many varieties including E. coli.
The distribution of E. coli in psittacines varies one one species to another. It is less common in Amazons and macaws, sometimes found in greys, and common in cockatoos and Eclectus. In fact, E. coli can compose as much as 30 percent of the gut flora of some psittacines and others like cockatiels and budgies carry somewhat less.
The bacteria is shed from an infected bird in the fecal material as well as nasal and or ocular secretions. The organism remains stable outside the host body and may dry as a dusty substance. This dust contaminates the air in the form of aerosols. These aerosols are then inhaled by another possible host. Susceptibility as well as the amount of contamination determine whether or not the new host becomes infected with the disease. Other forms of transmission include infected hens feeding their young with contaminated crop contents, as well as contaminated feed and drinking water.Vertical transmission (transmission of the bacteria to and egg) can occur, subsequently chicks hatch and spread salmonella by direct contact. The embryo may die if bacteria levels become to high.
The disease has a greater chance of spreading in overcrowded conditions, stale air environments, nest-boxes, and brooders. Pet shops, bird marts, and quarantine stations are also high risk areas.
Keep water and
feed bowls free of fecal material. Identify carrier birds and properly treat
them. Careful disposal of contaminated materials. Minimize Stress in the
aviary. People working with contaminated material should practice good hygiene.
E. coli is usually
detected from a cloacal (vent) culture. It is best to take the culture directly
from the cloaca rather than from a fecal sample. A fecal sample may be contaminated
by another bird or animal, such as a rodent.
Prior to shipping samples should be stored
at 4 C. Samples must be shipped overnight in a transport medium.
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