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Screening of Healthy Feral Pigeons (Columba livia domestica) in the City of Zurich Reveals Continuous Circulation of Pigeon Paramyxovirus-1 and a Serious Threat of Transmission to Domestic Poultry

Pigeon paramyxovirus-1 (PPMV-1) is predominantly isolated from pigeons or doves and forms a separate group of viral strains within Avian Orthoavulavirus-1, the causative agent of Newcastle disease in poultry. Since the introduction of PPMV-1 into Europe in 1981, these strains have rapidly spread all over Europe, and are nowadays considered to be enzootic in feral and hobby pigeons (Columba livia domestica). Infections with PPMV-1 can range from asymptomatic to fatal. To assess whether PPMV-1 continuously circulates in healthy feral pigeons, 396 tissue samples of pigeons from the city of Zurich were tested by reverse transcriptase real-time PCR over the period of one year. PPMV-1-RNA was detected in 41 feral pigeons (10.35%), determined as the dominant European genotype VI. In 38 of the 41 pigeons where organ samples tested positive, PPMV-1-RNA was also detected in either choana or cloaca swabs. There were no significant differences in positivity rates between seasons, age, and sex. The current study shows that feral pigeons without clinical signs of disease can harbour and most likely excrete PPMV-1. Spill-over into free-range holdings of chickens are therefore possible, as observed in a recent outbreak of Newcastle disease in laying hens due to PPMV-1 genotype VI. in the canton of Zurich in January 2022.


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