The racing pigeon (Columba livia domestica) industry in Victoria, Australia, and epidemiology of a novel Group A rotavirus outbreak.
A novel Group A rotavirus, first identified clinically in racing, feral and fancy pigeons in Western Australia, had spread throughout Australia by March 2017. In December 2016, the putative index case of rotavirus in racing pigeons in the state of Victoria was confirmed at a regional bird sale, with rapid spread to peri-urban Melbourne, the capital city. A survey sent to approximately 400 Victorian pigeon fanciers identified eight (of 85 respondents) with a confirmed rotavirus infection in their loft(s). If a fancier had purchased live birds, either from the regional sale or from another source, there was a 13%-38% increased likelihood of the loft subsequently being confirmed rotavirus-positive. An increased loft-level risk of rotavirus was also positively associated with the number of neighbouring lofts within a 5-km radius of a home loft. It was concluded that rotavirus was primarily transmitted beyond the Victorian index case through the movement of live birds into a loft, either deliberately through bird purchase and/or inadvertently through the entry of pigeons from neighbouring lofts. As pigeon racing inherently requires consistent contact between birds from different lofts, vaccination is recommended as a primary method of rotavirus control in this unique industry.