Pigeon Fever Research

This disease has nothing to do with birds; it got its name from the inflammation seen in the chest region of some affected horses that makes them look like they have a puffed-out pigeon's breast. Also known as dryland distemper, the disease is caused by Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis. Research at the University of California, Davis, has indicated that insect vectors play a significant role in the transmission of this disease in horses.

C. pseudotuberculosis can also cause ulcerative lymphangitis (elephant leg), subcutaneous (beneath the skin) abscessation, internal abscessation, bacteremia (the presence of bacteria), and abortion in horses.

Betsy Vaughan, DVM, of the University of California, Davis, at the 50th annual American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Convention in Denver, Colo., Dec. 4-8, 2004, discussed the use of ultrasound to diagnose systemic (internal) C. pseudotuberculosis infections of abdominal organs of horses, which can occur concurrently with typical outward signs of the disease or might not be associated with external abscessation. Horses with systemic infections had clinical signs of depression, lethargy, anorexia, weight loss, fever, and colic. She said ultrasound also is useful to monitor treatment and resolution of internal infection involving abdominal organs.

Vaughan noted that C. pseudotuberculosis infection is one of the most common diseases diagnosed in California, and it is also present in other parts of the world, including Texas and Colorado. "The recent spread of the external form of the disease into states not previously affected, including Kentucky, Wyoming, and Utah, should make practitioners more aware of the possibility of internal infection in states outside California," stated Vaughan. "Many cases may go undiagnosed without the use of ultrasound."

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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