Borrelia anserina infections
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Borrelia anserina infections
International Common Names
- English: avian borreliosis; avian spirochaetosis; avian spirochetosis; borreliosis, avian; fowl spirochetosis; spirochaetosis; spirochetosis; spirochetosis, borrelia anserina, in birds
Local Common Names
- Brazil: borreliose aviária
Pathogen/sTop of page
OverviewTop of page
Avian (fowl) spirochetosis, or borreliosis, is an acute, septicaemic disease of a variety of avian species, including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and pheasants, caused by the bacterium Borrelia anserina (Barnes, 1997). It is of most significance in tropical and subtropical areas; extensively reared free-range flocks are more likely to be affected than confined flocks (Kanth, 2006). The disease was first described among geese in Russia (Sakharoff, 1891). A few decades later in Brazil, Marchoux and Salimbeni (1903) incriminated the role of ticks of the genus Argas as natural vectors of the disease; this was later confirmed by several authors in all continents (Prowazek, 1909; Knowles et al., 1932; Diab and Soliman, 1977).
B. anserina was classified under different taxonomic names at the beginning of the twentieth century (Knowles et al., 1932). These differences were mostly justified by the negative results obtained in cross-immunity tests performed on laboratory birds with different geographic strains. Nowadays, it is well known that different B. anserina antigenic types exist and active immunity is serotype-specific (DaMassa and Adler, 1979; Soni and Joshi, 1980; Sambri et al., 1999).
Host AnimalsTop of page
Hosts/Species AffectedTop of page
B. anserina is only pathogenic for birds. Birds are susceptible at all ages, but young birds tend develop more severe clinical signs with greater lethality rates. Joshi et al. (1985) showed dwarf chickens to be more resistant than White Leghorns and synthetic broilers. Native chicken breeds tend to be more resistant than are commercial ones (Rashid and Ali, 1991).
Systems AffectedTop of page
digestive diseases of poultry
respiratory diseases of poultry
urinary tract and renal diseases of poultry
DistributionTop of page
Avian spirochetosis occurs on all continents. B. anserina is primarily transmitted by ticks. Obviously, the prevalence of the disease should follow the tick vector distribution in the world. However, the vector distribution is much wider than that of spirochetosis. This difference is possibly a result of unrecorded cases of the disease in other countries, but also because some vector populations are not infected by B. anserina.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 10 Jan 2020
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Cabo Verde||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Central African Republic||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Côte d'Ivoire||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Djibouti||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Egypt||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Eritrea||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Ethiopia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Guinea||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Madagascar||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Mauritius||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Tunisia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Zimbabwe||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Bahrain||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Bhutan||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Georgia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Hong Kong||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|India||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|-Madhya Pradesh||Present, Widespread|
|-Uttar Pradesh||Present, Widespread|
|Indonesia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Iran||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Israel||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Jordan||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Kazakhstan||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Kuwait||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|-Sabah||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Mongolia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|North Korea||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Oman||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Philippines||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Singapore||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Syria||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Taiwan||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Thailand||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Belarus||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Cyprus||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Czechia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Estonia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|France||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Greece||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Iceland||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Ireland||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Isle of Man||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Jersey||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Latvia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Liechtenstein||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Lithuania||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Luxembourg||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Malta||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Moldova||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Netherlands||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|North Macedonia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Poland||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Portugal||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Serbia and Montenegro||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Slovakia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Slovenia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Spain||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Ukraine||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|United Kingdom||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|-Northern Ireland||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Barbados||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Bermuda||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|British Virgin Islands||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Canada||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Cayman Islands||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Costa Rica||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Curaçao||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Dominica||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Guatemala||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Haiti||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Honduras||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Jamaica||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Mexico||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Nicaragua||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Panama||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|United States||Present||CAB Abstracts Data Mining|
|-New Mexico||Present, Localized|
|-New South Wales||Present, Widespread|
|French Polynesia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|New Caledonia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|New Zealand||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Vanuatu||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|-Minas Gerais||Present, Localized|
|-Rio de Janeiro||Present, Localized|
|-Sao Paulo||Present, Localized|
|Chile||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Colombia||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Ecuador||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Falkland Islands||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Guyana||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Peru||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Uruguay||Absent, No presence record(s)|
|Venezuela||Absent, No presence record(s)|
PathologyTop of page
The most characteristic post-mortem finding is the marked enlargement and mottling of the spleen, showing ecchymotic haemorrhages. The spleen becomes three to six times its normal size. The liver may also be enlarged, congested and friable containing minute areas of necrosis. The kidneys are enlarged and pale. Greenish mucoid enteritis is usually present.
The spleen shows hyperplasia of histiocytes and reticular cells, moderate depletion of lymphocytes and accentuation of the red pulp. Extensive erythrophagocytosis is evident in the sinusoidal macrophages of the spleen, in Kupffer cells of the liver and in bone marrow smears. Haemosiderosis is observed in the spleen, liver and intestines. Silver-stained spirochetes can be observed in the spleen, liver, small intestine, kidney or lungs (Bandopadhyay and Vegad, 1983; Cooper and Bickford, 1993).
DiagnosisTop of page
Clinical and Epidemiological Diagnosis
Increased mortality in flocks followed by clinical signs such fever, depression and greenish diarrhoea are suggestive of spirochetosis, but they are also observed in other acute avian diseases. These clinical signs, associated with splenomegaly at necropsy and the presence of Argas infestations, constitute epidemiological evidences of spirochetosis. A flock infested by Argas ticks can be identified by searching for attached larvae on the underneath side of wing webs.
Spirochetosis can be confirmed by the demonstration of spirochetes in Giemsa-stained blood or organ smears from ill birds. In the late disease phase, stained blood smears show the spirochetes aggregated in clumps due to agglutination antibodies. Highly motile spirochetes can be observed in a drop of fresh blood observed under dark-field microscope. B. anserina can also be demonstrated in the buffy coat in the microhematocrit tube (Higgins, 1986).
B. anserina can be isolated in 6-day-old embryonating chicken or turkey eggs by inoculating infective blood into the yolk sac. Spirochetes may be demonstrated 2-3 days later by examining the allantoic fluid. As it has been possible to cultivate B. anserina in BSK medium, this medium could also be used for isolation assays.
Spirochetes disappear from blood after the acute phase or following antibiotic therapy. Under this situation, several serologic tests have been developed to identify antibodies in convalescent birds, including serum plate agglutination test, slide agglutination and immobilization test, agar gel precipitin test, and indirect fluorescent antibody test (Barnes, 1997). Birds recovered from spirochetosis develop solid immunity for more than 6 months against homologous strains (McNeil et al., 1949; Verma and Rao, 1988).
List of Symptoms/SignsTop of page
|Digestive Signs / Abnormal colour of stool in birds, white, green, yellow faeces||Poultry:All Stages||Diagnosis|
|Digestive Signs / Anorexia, loss or decreased appetite, not nursing, off feed||Poultry:All Stages||Diagnosis|
|Digestive Signs / Bloody stools, faeces, haematochezia||Sign|
|Digestive Signs / Diarrhoea||Poultry:All Stages||Diagnosis|
|Digestive Signs / Hepatosplenomegaly, splenomegaly, hepatomegaly||Poultry:All Stages||Diagnosis|
|General Signs / Cyanosis, blue skin or membranes||Poultry:All Stages||Diagnosis|
|General Signs / Fever, pyrexia, hyperthermia||Poultry:All Stages||Diagnosis|
|General Signs / Generalized weakness, paresis, paralysis||Sign|
|General Signs / Generalized weakness, paresis, paralysis||Sign|
|General Signs / Increased mortality in flocks of birds||Poultry:All Stages||Diagnosis|
|General Signs / Lack of growth or weight gain, retarded, stunted growth||Sign|
|General Signs / Pale comb and or wattles in birds||Poultry:All Stages||Diagnosis|
|General Signs / Pale mucous membranes or skin, anemia||Sign|
|General Signs / Polydipsia, excessive fluid consumption, excessive thirst||Poultry:All Stages||Sign|
|General Signs / Sudden death, found dead||Poultry:All Stages||Sign|
|General Signs / Trembling, shivering, fasciculations, chilling||Poultry:All Stages||Sign|
|General Signs / Underweight, poor condition, thin, emaciated, unthriftiness, ill thrift||Sign|
|General Signs / Weakness, paresis, paralysis of the legs, limbs in birds||Poultry:All Stages||Diagnosis|
|General Signs / Weakness, paresis, paralysis, drooping, of the wings||Poultry:All Stages||Diagnosis|
|General Signs / Weight loss||Poultry:All Stages||Diagnosis|
|Nervous Signs / Dullness, depression, lethargy, depressed, lethargic, listless||Poultry:All Stages||Sign|
|Reproductive Signs / Decreased, dropping, egg production||Poultry:Mature female||Diagnosis|
|Skin / Integumentary Signs / Ruffled, ruffling of the feathers||Cattle & Buffaloes:All Stages||Diagnosis|
|Skin / Integumentary Signs / Soiling of the feathers, vent feathers||Sign|
|Skin / Integumentary Signs / Soiling of the vent in birds||Sign|
Disease CourseTop of page
Natural infection via either tick bites or ingestion of infective faeces, blood or ticks results in an incubation period of 3-12 days. Intravenous inoculation of infected blood into susceptible birds induces the disease after 24 to 48 hours (Knowles et al., 1932; Labruna et al., 1999). The most common clinical symptoms are fever, generalized weakness, ruffed feathers, loss of appetite, thirst, greenish diarrhoea, dropped head, and finally paralysis of wings and legs. Cyanosis or pallor of comb and wattles are visible. A few spirochetes may be found in the peripheral blood coincident with the initial temperature rise, thereafter increasing in concentration in 2 or 3 days, and then usually disappearing after a further 1 or 2 days. The disease course lasts for 3 to 7 days, followed by bird recovery or death. Recovered birds develop solid immunity and are not carriers of the bacterium. Under natural outbreaks, mortality rates vary from 1-2% up to almost 100%. The lowest rates occur in closed flocks where spirochetosis is endemic. The highest rates occur when susceptible flocks are placed in pens inhabited by infected ticks or when infected ticks are introduced in clean flocks by either infested birds or equipment.
Birds develop anaemia, the severity of which is maximum when spirochetemia is in decline. Studies have revealed the role of cold agglutinins and soluble immune complexes in the production of anaemia during acute spirochetosis. It is suspected that these adhere to erythrocytes, enhancing their phagocytosis by macrophages in tissues, especially in spleen (Soni et al., 1980; Joshi et al., 1982; Barnes, 1997).
EpidemiologyTop of page
Besides being the primary vector, Argas spp. ticks are also reservoirs of the bacterium in nature. B. anserina can survive trans-stadially during all tick stages and is transmitted transovarially (Zaher et al., 1977). Once infected, a tick remains infected by B. anserina for its entire life (Hoogstraal, 1985).
Argas ticks have a multi-host life cycle pattern, consisting of eggs, larvae, two to four nymphal stages and the adults (males and females). Larvae feed for 4-6 days, whereas the nymphal instars and adult ticks feed for only 20 to 50 minutes, at night, when birds are housed. Egg deposition and incubation, mating and all tick moults occur off the host, inside cracks and crevices. Each female may lay as many as 900 eggs during her entire life. These are produced in as many as seven batches with a blood meal preceding each batch of eggs. Hungry ticks leave the cracks or crevices at dark hours, and move toward a sleeping chicken. Larvae attach mainly on the underneath side of the wing web. Nymphs and adults feed mainly on the shanks. Fed ticks detach from the hosts and immediately walk and hide in cracks or crevices. As engorged ticks walk toward hidden places they usually release black faeces which are characteristic. Highly infested flocks can be carefully identified by the presence of several small black spots <1 mm wide) on the roosts and walls, especially around crack entrances. Unfed Argas ticks are able to survive without a new blood meal for several months or years.
Spirochetosis outbreaks have been reported in Californian turkey and chicken flocks where no ticks, lice or mites could be found (McNeil et al., 1949). These intriguing findings have been subject to several speculations about the transmission by mosquitoes or through contaminated faeces from wandering birds. Once introduced in a clean flock, spirochetosis can be transmitted from bird to bird by virtually any means whereby blood, excreta, or tissues from an infected live or recently dead bird come in contact with a susceptible bird (Barnes, 1997).
Impact: EconomicTop of page
Most of the literature about spirochetosis was published before the 1980s, especially from the 1940s to the 1960s, when the poultry industry comprised several small enterprises, many of which could be categorized by poor sanitation conditions. New scientific reports about field spirochetosis have rarely been released. This contrast is certainly a result of modifications of poultry-rearing methods around the world in the past few decades. The industry today, as it is in most countries, is very advanced in response to globalization, industrialization, vertical integration and aggregation such that a few large agribusiness companies virtually control the poultry industry in different countries. A number of diseases that used to cause problems before this revolution in production systems no longer do so, among them avian spirochetosis. These modifications have diminished the possibilities of tick establishment into new intensively managed flocks. In many countries where spirochetosis was reported to be one of the most severe diseases affecting the poultry industry in the past, the disease became confined to small flocks kept for personal consumption of product (village chickens) or very limited local sale, with no significant economic impact to the country. Sa’idu et al. (1995) noted the drastic decline of cases of spirochetosis in Nigeria in the 1980s, when compared to the 1970s, and associated it with better housing of birds and improved management and tick control measures.
Nowadays, free-range egg production is becoming a trend in response to concerns about the welfare of poultry kept in large farm complexes. It will be interesting to see the impact of such management on the establishment of Argas populations in these modified flock systems.
Disease TreatmentTop of page
B. anserina is sensitive to penicillin, tylosin, streptomycin, dihydrostreptomycin, oxytetracycline and aureomycin. Generally, a single intramuscular dose of any of these drugs is sufficient for a severely affected bird to recover (Hsiang and Packchanian, 1951; Singer, 1977; Kheir El Din et al., 1986).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Avoiding or eliminating Argas ticks from the pens are the best measures to control spirochetosis. Tick eradication through the use of acaricides is very difficult due to the particular behaviour of ticks, which hide in the pen. Vaccination has been shown to control the disease. Several formalin- or phenol-inactivated vaccines were tested in different countries (Aragão, 1911; Nóbrega and Reis, 1941; Morcos et al., 1946; Gorrie, 1950; Rao et al., 1954). In general, all these vaccines showed high immunizing power which lasted for at least 6 months.
Today, fowl spirochetosis is practically confined to small flocks kept for subsistence or very limited local sale. In this context, the disease assumes endemic levels in which sick birds are seldom observed. Newborn chicks are resistant to the disease due to maternal antibodies and develop acquired immunity as they follow up. In these flocks the disease is practically confined to recently introduced susceptible birds. This particular context has aroused little or no interest from veterinary laboratories to trade spirochetosis vaccines. Regular acaricide applications on the pen and antibiotic therapy of sick birds should be adopted in these endemic spirochetosis flocks. Alternatively, attempts to 'tick-proof' roosts by suspending them from wire and keeping grease spread on the wire, or by placing roost legs in oil-filled containers, require almost constant attention to be effective (Barnes, 1997). Owners of clean flocks must be aware of the origin of new introduced birds to avoid importation of ticks or the disease.
ReferencesTop of page
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