BACKGROUND: Avian pox is a viral disease documented in a wide range of bird species. Disease-related detrimental effects can cause dyspnea and dysphagia, and birds with high metabolic requirements, such as hummingbirds, are thus especially vulnerable to the pathogen. Hummingbirds have a strong presence in California, especially in urban environments. However, little is understood regarding the impact of pox virus on hummingbird populations. Currently, diagnosing a pox infection relies on obtaining a tissue biopsy, which poses significant risks to birds and challenges in the field. Understanding the ecology of hummingbird pox viral infections could be advanced by a minimally invasive ante-mortem diagnostic method. Our aim was to address whether pox infections can be diagnosed using integumentary system samples besides tissue biopsies. To meet this goal, we tested multiple integumentary sample types using a quantitative real-time PCR assay. A secondary study goal was to determine which sample types (ranging from minimally to highly invasive sampling) were optimal for identifying infected birds. METHODOLOGY AND PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Pox-like lesion tissue, pectoral muscle, feathers, toenail clippings, blood, and swabs (both pox-like lesion tissue and non pox-like lesion tissue) were taken from live birds and carcasses of two species of hummingbirds found in California. To maximize successful diagnosis, especially for samples with low viral load, a real-time quantitative PCR assay was developed for detecting the hummingbird-specific Avipoxvirus 4b core protein gene. Avipoxvirus DNA was successfully amplified from all sample types obtained from 27 individuals. These results were compared to those of conventional PCR and comparisons were also made among sample types, utilizing lesion tissue samples as the gold standard. CONCLUSIONS AND SIGNIFICANCE: Hummingbird avian pox can be diagnosed without relying on tissue biopsies. We identify that feather samples, of which contour feathers yielded the best results, can be used for diagnosing infected birds, thus reducing sampling risk. In sum, the real-time PCR assay detected viral DNA in various integumentary system sample types and will be useful in future studies of hummingbird disease ecology.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)