Blackhead disease, also known as Histomoniasis, is a disease that affects poultry, such as chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese as well as game birds, such as partridges, pheasants and quail.
Blackhead is caused by a protozoan parasite known as Histomonas meleagridis and typically causes damage that can be seen clinically to the liver and the caeca, which is part of the intestinal tract. Mortality rates in turkeys can be particularly high, varying between 70% to 100%, whereas in chickens, the mortality rate can be around 20%.
How does blackhead disease spread?
The disease can spread in a number of ways, as the pathogen causing the disease has a complicated life cycle.
- Birds can become infected if they ingest food and bird droppings that have been contaminated with the blackhead protozoa.
- Direct bird-to-bird transmission can also occur within a flock, due to the droppings and when birds are housed closely together, can spread quickly.
What are the symptoms of blackhead disease?
The symptoms in each bird can vary, and can be particularly hard to determine in live birds, particularly in the early stages. However, some of the most common symptoms of the disease include:
- Increased or sudden mortality
- A hunched appearance
- Decreased appetite and poor growth
- Abnormal yellow droppings, diarrhoea or blood in the droppings
- Cyanosis or a blue-black colouration of the head
What are the origins of blackhead disease?
Blackhead disease was discovered in 1893 in the USA, and is believed to have been introduced by imported pheasants over a decade before. Not long after it was discovered, it was confirmed that it had spread across the continent and eventually, the disease spread to many other countries.
How to protect your poultry from blackhead disease:
In wet and warm conditions, the risk of blackhead disease are increased
Prevention is the best way to protect your flock from Blackhead disease. Good biosecurity practices, including quarantine of new birds and separation of sick birds, are essential. You should also maintain clean housing and provide clean water and feed for your birds. Blackhead disease is a serious poultry disease that can cause significant losses in affected flocks. However, with good biosecurity practices and prompt treatment of sick birds, you can help protect your poultry.
A necropsy (animal autopsy) is the best way to confirm a diagnosis of Blackhead disease. Your veterinarian will look for characteristic black heads on the necks of affected birds and will also examine the liver for damage. Blackhead disease is treated with a course of antibiotics, but affected birds often need to be depleted to prevent the spread of the disease.
Partnering with Livetec to protect your poultry
At Livetec, we work with you to protect your poultry from Blackhead disease and other diseases. With over a decade of experience we use our scientific know-how and technical knowledge to produce bespoke biosecurity plans that are tailored to your specific needs. Our team of experts can also provide contingency planning to help you protect your animals welfare in the event of an outbreak.
Find out how the Livetec team can help you keep your flock healthy and safe by contacting us today.