It started rather innocently, I noticed that the Broad breasted turkeys looked like they had injured their waddles, both of them. I couldn’t figure out how they would have done this. They walk the fence lines some, but certainly not enough to hurt themselves and their feathers were intact. Turkeys that walk the fences, usually wear the feathers off of their chests. The turkeys were both active and while I was perplexed, I didn’t pay much mind to it. Another few days passed, and I realized that skin wounds had appeared, and I suspected then that they had fowl pox. I mentioned to Philip that we would need to investigate more. Thankfully fowl pox in turkeys is not only common but also easy to manage.
What is Fowl Pox in Turkeys?
Fowl pox can affect turkeys, chickens, and other birds. It is a viral infection known as avipoxvirus or avian poxvirus. It comes in two forms of fowl pox. The cutaneous form, commonly known as dry fowl pox affects the skin of infected birds. It is the more common of the two forms. The diphtheritic form affects the mucous membranes of the oral cavity and the respiratory tract: the mouth, esophagus, and throat. Its commonly known as wet fowl pox. This form is much more serious. In severe cases, birds can die from infection.
Common Signs of Fowl Pox in Turkeys and Chickens
- Birds may be lethargic, sitting alone fluffed up
- Swelling of the eyes
- Loss of appetite or water consumption
- Sores. The initial pox lesions are often white pustules, followed by black lesions on the unfeathered parts of the bird: heads and neck, and sometimes legs.
- The decline in egg production
- Weight loss
Flock members experiencing the wet form of fowl pox will experience additional symptoms.
- Difficulty breathing
- Yellow or white lesions in the mouth.
Transmission of Fowl Pox
Fowl pox spread primary by the mosquito population. Mosquitoes can carry the viral infection to all the birds that they feed on weeks after encountering an infected bird. Once a bird in a backyard flock is infected, the birds can transfer the virus to the rest of the flock through direct contact in normal interaction. The virus is also present in the dried scabs that fall off the birds as they heal. The fowlpox virus incubation period is 4 to 10 days. The nodules appear 5 to 8 days after infection, and it can take two to 4 weeks for the scabs to clear.
Because of this, separating sick birds from healthy birds is recommended. We only have two turkeys, and both were infected at the same time. However, my mother-in-law does have a large flock of chickens and turkeys. Thankfully our birds are housed in a separate chicken coop and so far, her entire flock have not shown any signs of contracting the virus.
Birds that have been infected are not likely to be infected again.
Treatment of Fowl Pox
There is no known treatment for fowl pox, though there are many recommendations to make the birds more comfortable and to treat any secondary infection that might be present due to the illness. The fowl pox virus is not a reportable disease, and most birds with the dry form of fowl pox will recover with little fanfare. Birds infected with wet pox have a higher mortality rate and may have much more serious symptoms.
Vitamin water supplements or giving the birds cooked scrambled eggs that are not eating well can help the birds recover. Some sources recommend washing the infected skin with iodine and applying topical ointments.
Our turkeys did not seem in distress, they continued to eat and were active. I opted to simply let the virus run its course. One of the turkeys looks very good, with very few dry scabs left on her neck. The other bird does still have quite a few scabs, but they look like they are in a stage where they are drying and in the process of healing.
Prevention of Fowl Pox
Good biosecurity practices are the best means of protecting your flocks. It’s a good idea to isolate new birds for 30 days. Birds already infected will likely show signs in that time frame. Though some birds may carry the illness and not show signs of infection.
After birds have recovered, clean the area thoroughly, to remove any scab cells that remain and may infect other birds.
There are vaccinations available from most farm stores that can be administered if you choose to do so.
Fowl Pox in Production Stock
One of my biggest concerns regarding our broad breasted turkeys being infected with fowl pox was that they are our meat birds. Thankfully there is no risk to the meat or egg production of birds infected with fowl pox. Even birds with active infections cause no harm to humans. Hunters may encounter wild turkeys also infected with fowl pox and the meat is safe to process.
It is important to note, if you opt to vaccinate your birds or treat them with any types of medications, you will need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the safe use of meat and eggs while the birds are in treatment.