‘The pecking dead’: Panicked Russians contact authorities to report eerie behaviour of ‘zombie pigeons’

Birds seem extremely lethargic and seemingly fearless

John Hall

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

A number of panicked Russians have contacted the authorities to report concerns over the bizarre behaviour of pigeons in Moscow.

Locals have dubbed the birds “zombie pigeons” after a strange change in their behaviour swept the city – leaving the birds extremely lethargic and seemingly fearless.

Speaking to Europe Radio Liberty, a Moscow resident named Umid said: “When I walk to work I usually see pigeons running and jumping around. But recently they haven’t been reacting to anything at all”.

He added: “When a person walks past them, they used to fly away. But now they just sit there in a kind of funk and don’t even pay attention to you. They’re just not normal.”

Umid went on to say: “I’ve seen some pigeons behaving very strangely, turning around in circles”.

Officials have dubbed the birds “the pecking dead”, and say their condition is likely to be a combination of an intestinal infection that has left a large number of pigeons dead over the last few years, and various other parasite-based diseases.

Hundreds of worried Muscovites have already taken to Twitter to share stories about the “zombie pigeons”, branding the epidemic a “bird apocalypse”.

One user reported a pigeon losing its balance and falling through an open window frame, while others described birds resting their beaks on the ground or walking round and round in circles.

Moscow’s deputy Mayor Leonid Pechatnikov moved to allay fears by declaring the pigeons’ odd behaviour harmless, adding that the intestinal disease could not be caught by humans.

This was seemingly contradicted by the Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Inspection Unit however, who said the birds are likely to be suffering from Newcastle disease – a highly contagious illness that can cause eye infections and flu-like symptoms in people.

Russia’s Vetinary Committee added a third theory, claiming lesions on the dead birds’ livers and intestines seem to indicate salmonella poisoning, which can, of course, also be passed to humans.

For the time being, locals are advised to stay away from any pigeon that is behaving strangely and to call the local authorities if they come across a dead bird.

Russia’s chief health inspector Gennady Onishchenko, who last month banned Ukrainian chocolate as a potential health hazard, said the country has no plans to investigate the reports however.

Mr Onishchenko went on to reveal his somewhat prejudicial views on pigeons, saying: “In the hands of Pablo Picasso a pigeon became and embodiment of peace… but in fact, in a sanitary sense, they are one of the dirtiest stupidest birds there are”.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-pecking-dead-panicked-russians-contact-authorities-to-report-eerie-behaviour-of-zombie-pigeons-8778094.html#

Poultry disease vaccine brings short-term results but long-term problems: live vaccines that protect poultry against Newcastle Disease may be altering the genetic makeup of the wild virus strains

2010 study posted for filing

Contact: Amitabh Avasthi axa47@psu.edu 814-865-9481 Penn State

Attenuated live vaccines that protect poultry against Newcastle Disease may be altering the genetic makeup of the wild virus strains, which could make future outbreaks unpredictable and difficult to tackle, according to biologists.

Newcastle Disease is an economically devastating poultry disease that costs the industry millions of dollars.

“Many vaccines in the animal industry are developed by modifying a virulent live virus,” said Mary Poss, professor of biology and veterinary and biomedical sciences, Penn State. “These vaccines elicit a strong protection against disease.”

However, vaccinated birds can shed the vaccine virus to infect other birds, and live virus vaccines do not always protect birds from infection from other viral strains of Newcastle disease.

Poss and her Penn State colleagues Yee Ling Chong, graduate student in biology; Abinash Padhi, post-doctoral fellow and Peter J. Hudson, Willaman professor of biology, found that one vaccine strain recombined — exchanged genetic material — with at least three wild strains, creating new viruses. These viruses are found in both domestic and wild birds. The team’s findings appear today (Apr. 22) in PLoS Pathogens.

“Our findings indicate that birds can be simultaneously infected with the live virus vaccine and several other strains of this avian virus,” said Poss. “This raises concerns that modified live virus vaccines, though effective, may combine with circulating viruses to create unpredictable new strains.”

A modified live virus vaccine is essentially a weakened virus that does not cause disease but mimics a natural infection that in turn evokes a strong immune response from the infected host. But Poss argues that vaccination may be unwittingly increasing the diversity of Newcastle Disease viruses that are circulating in wild birds.

For instance, many poultry farmers typically vaccinate the flock by mixing the vaccine in the birds’ drinking water or by aerosol, which means wild birds and pigeons can also become infected with the vaccine virus.

This sets up the opportunity for viral recombination. A bird is infected with two different viruses at the same time, one from the weakened vaccine and one naturally, and both viruses then infect the same cell.

In addition to the possibility of creating new viruses, different strains of the virus that causes Newcastle disease may be evolving in different environments. Recombination among these strains could bring together genes that have multiple means to evade immunity in a host.

Poss added that vaccine developers need to be aware of the potential for driving virus evolution using modified live viruses and should instead consider using killed or inactivated viruses. Scientists are already using that approach against Newcastle Disease in some areas but not globally.

“We need to step up the surveillance and monitoring of viral diseases in poultry and wild birds,” said Poss. “We need to be aware that management practices including the use of live virus vaccines can change viral diversity and the consequences of such changes will not be evident for several generations.”

While many virus strains undergo a boom and bust cycle — they are present for a period of time and then die out — Poss notes that the use of live virus vaccines creates a persistent level of the vaccine strains in the global bird population.

Poultry farmers around the world vaccinate birds with vaccine made from one of two live strains of an avian virus that causes Newcastle Disease. While vaccines from the first strain are used mainly in Asia, the second strain is used in vaccines worldwide. Since the 1950s, vaccines derived from the two strains have helped poultry farmers avoid devastating economic losses.

To determine the impact of vaccination on the evolution of wild viruses, researchers analyzed the evolutionary history of 54 samples of full-length genome sequences of the avian paramyxovirus — the virus that causes Newcastle Disease — isolated from infected birds.

If all six genes that make up the paramyxovirus shared the same ancestor, Poss reasoned, the family trees of each gene would look the same. However, genes that are derived from a different strain would have family trees distinct from the other genes of that virus, a strong signature of recombination.

Statistical analysis of the gene sequences indicates that recombination occurred in at least five of the sampled genomes. Four of these five genomes contained gene sequences from one of the two vaccine strains.

Researchers next reconstructed the population history of the different viral strains. The strain from which the vaccine was derived showed a higher and more constant population size compared to other circulating strains.

“When viruses don’t change, it is typically a good thing,” Poss explained. “But as soon as they start to change, like the flu, we don’t know what the transmission and disease potential are going to be like from one year to another. So driving up viral diversity is not a good thing.”