Is Pigeon Malaria really dangerous to pigeons?

Question:

I'm a new comer to this sport and have heard a lot about different pigeons diseases. One of these diseases is pigeon malaria. I've heard a lot from other fanciers about this disease. There seems to be a tremendous amount of varying opinions about it. Some fanciers don't seem to regard it as dangerous, while others will go mad about it. This is really confusing. Please tell me what is your opinion about pigeon malaria.

Answer:

I believe that pigeon malaria is one of the most important diseases affecting our pigeons today. The reason why it is not so well-known, is that it is a classical erosion disease. By this I mean that pigeons carrying this disease, will often show no clinical symptoms other than loss of racing performance.

It is important to realize that there is a major difference between pigeon malaria (Haemaproteus columbae) and fowl malaria (Plasmodium spp.).

The pigeon fly, commonly known as the 'jockey', transmits the pigeon malaria from one to another. It seldom, if ever, causes true disease or death.

In contrast to this, the fowl malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes and will cause anemia, yellow jaundice and death. An avian veterinarian will be able to distinguish the one from the other with a blood smear.

It does seem as if the immunity of the pigeons also plays a role in the prevalence of this organism. It may be that the dreaded Circo virus is playing a role in lowering the pigeon's immunity, and that we are subsequently seeing a rise in the malaria, which is easy to diagnose.

With all diseases prevention is better than cure, but this is especially true with this disease.

By spraying or dipping the pigeons regularly to control the pigeon fly, the incidence of pigeon malaria will drop dramatically. It is however important to use a product that has a long residual action (will bind to the feathers).

It is also very important to spray the lofts, perches and especially the nesting pans. Bear in mind that the pigeon fly lays live larvae and its favorite place to lay these larvae is in organic material such as the droppings that are found around the nest pans.

Another breeding area for pigeon flies is often the compost heap in the vicinity of the loft, so remember to spray this area as well.

The larval stages of the pigeon fly are very resistant to insecticides. It is better to use an insecticide that contains an insect growth regulator. This is a hormone that is included in the insecticide that will prevent the larvae and eggs of insects to develop into adults.

Another factor to remember when using an insecticide, is that many products which is not registered for use in birds, will be extremely dangerous to use in pigeons. It is especially the 'spot on' products that is made for dogs and cattle, which are dangerous.

Some of these products accumulate in the liver and cause chronic toxicity which will only be seen later.

A product known as Avian Insect Liquidator is safe, very effective, has a good residual effect, and contains an insect growth regulator. This product is available from most pigeon product dealers. In the past we treated pigeon malaria with Embazin. This product is currently not available in South Africa and a lot of resistance has developed to it, so that this product has of late not had the desired effect against pigeon malaria. Pigeon fanciers are now advised to use one of the human malaria products, Primaquine or Nivaquine.

It is at this stage not sure how effective these products are against the stage of the parasite that does not inhabit the red blood cells. It is for this reason that the parasite will often appear again a while after seemingly successful treatment.

It is thus clear that a lot of research still needs to be done on the treatment of this parasite, and for this reason I would rather that fanciers who suspect this disease, contact their avian veterinarian for a firm diagnosis and advice on treatment.

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