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There has been a surge in reported cases of Pigeon Fever in
Texas during the past year. With summer and fly season in full
swing, now is the perfect time for horse owners to become aware and
educated about Pigeon Fever.
There is no vaccine for the disease, so prevention and
recognition of its symptoms are of the upmost importance. The
disease is named after the symptomatic intramuscular abscesses and
swelling of the chest and pectoral regions of infected horses,
causing a "pigeon like" appearance. The infection is confirmed with
a bacterial culture in reported cases.
Pigeon Fever, also known as Dryland Distemper, is common in
drier regions like the western United States. The bacterium that
causes Pigeon Fever, Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis, lives and
multiplies in dry soil and manure. While Pigeon Fever is not new to
Texas, the past year has seen a rapid increase in reported cases,
most likely as a result of the severe drought.
Dr. Keith Chaffin, professor at the CVM, commented on the
disease and the increase in incidence.
"We now we see about three or four cases a day in the clinic,"
Chaffin said. "And many more veterinarians are reporting cases
across the state."
Horses contract the disease through an open wound or fly bite,
with bacteria entering through these abrasions or wounds.
Chaffin recommends a good fly control program for your horses
(sprays, sheets and repellents), basic sanitation, and recognizing
the symptoms quickly for prompt treatment. While most of the cases
present with external swelling, some cases can result in internal
abscesses that could develop pneumonia, colic, weight loss, fever,
lethargy, blood in the urine, and other systemic symptoms.
"Most cases of Pigeon Fever involve external abscesses in the
pectoral region and under the belly, back to the mammary or sheath
area," Chaffin said. "About less than ten per cent of cases
reported involve internal abscesses, which are most common in the
abdomen or thorax. The internal cases are the most dangerous, some
can be fatal."
Treating external Pigeon Fever typically consists of surgically
opening the abscesses to allow drainage.
"Timing and ultrasound are so critical to managing this
disease," Chaffin said. "Ultrasound allows the veterinarian to
determine if the swelling has reached mature abscess stage.
Also, ultrasound allows the veterinarian to see what critical
structures are nearby, which helps prevent complications. I don't
know how you would ever treat this disease without ultrasonographic
imaging. Because a recently drained abscess is potentially
contagious it is important to lavage the abscess cavity with
antiseptic solutions and I often prefer to place antimicrobials
locally into the abscess cavity."
Also, it is important to completely disinfect any of the pus
that drains from the abscesses. This will help minimize
spread of the disease, via flies, to other horses. Once
the abscesses have been drained, treated, and healed, the horses
are generally no longer contagious.
If you recognize any of the symptoms of Pigeon Fever, you should
contact your veterinarian immediately to begin treatment.
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