A novel group A rotavirus associated with acute illness and hepatic necrosis in pigeons (Columba livia), in Australia
Cases of vomiting and diarrhoea were reported in racing pigeons in Western Australia in May, 2016. Morbidity and mortality rates were high. Similar clinical disease was seen in Victoria in December and by early 2017 had been reported in all states except the Northern Territory, in different classes of domestic pigeon–racing, fancy and meat bird–and in a flock of feral pigeons. Autopsy findings were frequently unremarkable; histological examination demonstrated significant hepatic necrosis as the major and consistent lesion, often with minimal inflammatory infiltration. Negative contrast tissue suspension and thin section transmission electron microscopy of liver demonstrated virus particles consistent with a member of the Reoviridae. Inoculation of trypsin-treated Vero, MDBK and MA-104 cell lines resulted in cytopathic changes at two days after infection. Next generation sequencing was undertaken using fresh liver samples and a previously undescribed group A rotavirus (genotype G18P) of avian origin was identified and the virus was isolated in several cell lines. A q-RT-PCR assay was developed and used to screen a wider range of samples, including recovered birds. Episodes of disease have continued to occur and to reoccur in previously recovered lofts, with variable virulence reported. This is the first report of a rotavirus associated with hepatic necrosis in any avian species.