Monday, January 6, 2014

MG (Micoplasm Gallisepticum): Poultry Enemy #1

MG (Mycoplasm gallisepticum) is a major disease for turkeys, somewhat for chickens, costing the industry millions of dollars per year, but is off the radar in Canada, for both the #TurkeyMafia, the #ChickenMafia, and Small Flockers. Why?

In a 2005 USDA research report, MG was identified as the #1 mycoplasm disease in poultry.  The annual economic impact of MG infections in the United States was estimated at between $118 and $150 million for the layer industry alone in 1994.

For turkeys, BC has made MG a reportable disease, so as to allow neighbouring farms to be alerted so they can take additional biosecurity precautions.  While mycoplasms have a very limited life on surfaces, and can be somewhat easy to deactivate or kill, once a flock is infected, there is no known method to totally eradicate the disease.  The farm usually has to be totally de-populated, cleaned, disinfected, and left vacant for 6 weeks.  If not, the next flock will likely be infected as well.

World-wide, the interest in MG, as shown by Google search terms, began in March 2008, and has been steady since Aug. 2009.  In the USA, interest started in Nov 2009 and has been steady since Nov. 2010.  At least there is talk and growing awareness about MG outside Canada. Here are the search results on Google for the last 13 years:

Figure 1:  Insufficient searches on MG in Canada for Google Trends
In Canada, there is so little activity on MG, Google Trends is unable to provide search history trends on MG (same goes for a search for "Mycoplasm gallisepticum").

To see in greater detail, we had to go to Google Adwords Keyword Planner to see the activity in the last year.  In short, Figure 2 shows not much activity, just 10 to 50 searches per month within Canada.
Figure 2:  Google Adword KeywordPlanner shows just
10 to 50 searches on MG in Canada during the last year.

While few to nobody in Canada are seeking info on MG, would you guess that the governments and industry bureaucracies are hard at work on MG?


Figure 3:  No mention of MG on Turkey Farmers of Canada website
An advanced Google search of website for Turkey Farmers of Canada finds nothing on MG (see Figure 2).  They are too busy celebrating their 40th anniversary to be worried about something messy like MG.  Party on!

How about Ontario Turkey Farmers website?

Figure 4:  Turkey Farmers of Ontario has nothing on MG
Nope. Wrong again.  Nothing on MG here either (see Figure 3).

BC?  BC is a pretty progressive place.  They got hit bad by Avian Influenza  a few years ago.  Surely they have something on MG too.

Figure 5:  BC Turkey website draws a blank on MG too
Nope.  BC Turkey Farmers draws a blank on MG too.  Lots of great recipes for turkey.  I guess that's where there focus lies.

Figure 6:   57 documents referencing MG on CFIA's website
CFIA.  Of course!  The Federal Government's font of all knowledge on infectious animal diseases.  The protector of our borders for import and export of animals.  Surely they are aware of MG, and have a huge system for protecting Canada and Canadians from MG.

A search of CFIA's website using Google's Advanced Search finally hits paydirt.  CFIA has 57 documents linked to MG.  Unfortunately, most of these documents are forms that Canadian Veterinarians can fill out about a planned export of Canadian eggs, chicks or birds to other countries.

For example, Taiwan wants a 6 months clean bill of health, including MG on all live bird imports coming into Taiwan.  The EU wants 6 weeks isolation and clean bill of health for MG and other avian diseases.

A quick scan of the list fails to shows anything of interest for detection, education, prevention, eradication, isolation, MG incidence rate, MG prevalence rates, geographical distribution, testing programs, or anything else on MG.

I wonder why?

There is an MG brochure produced by the BC Ministry of Agriculture  Seems like a pretty good brochure, a good starting point for building awareness.

Searching Ontario's Ministry of Agriculture's website, we turn up just 1 hit for MG. In this article, Martine Boulianne - Department of Clinical Sciences/University of Montreal claimed in Nov. 1999:
"Some vertically transmitted diseases of economical importance have been eradicated from commercial poultry flocks. These programs, established by the industry, have seen the disappearance of Salmonella gallinarum, Salmonella pullorum, Mycoplasma gallisepticum, Mycoplasma synovia, and Mycoplasma meleagridis in all commercial poultry flocks. Mycoplasma synovia is the only mycoplasm that we very infrequently encounter in commercial laying hens."
Eureka!  Maybe this is a non-problem, solved long ago.  Maybe I have been crying wolf when the hide of the last wolf is already mounted and stuffed.

To confirm this assertion without objective evidence, I called Dr. Csaba Varga, Poultry Disease Specialist at Ontario Ministry of Agriculture.  Dr. Varga said MG is not a reportable disease in Ontario, so he is reluctant to instantly confirm eradication of MG in Ontario's commercial poultry flocks.  He promised to check with one of his colleagues, and get back to us.  We're standing by.

Since BC is very proactive on MG, I called Dr. Victoria Bowes, Poultry Specialists for BC's Ministry of Agriculture.  She confirmed that in 1996, there was a breakout of MG at a commercial turkey farm in BC (note that this 1996 is 3 years after the 1999 claim of eradication).  It was felt that the infection arrived via pigeons that were entering the commercial turkey barns due to a lack of screening, and the pigeons allegedly picked up the MG from nearby small flock poultry farm(s).  Dr. Bowes agreed that the pigeon and small flock vector theory was "wild speculation" by the commercial turkey industry, with no proof nor reasonable & probable grounds to lay those accusations; it was just a hunch on their part.  BC did make the disease reportable for commercial turkey flocks at the request of the industry at that time.

Dr. Bowes also informed us that all commercial breeders do control and monitoring for MG under NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Plan), so there is MG surveillance from Day 1 at flock of origin.  If & when a flock tests positive for MG, it is immediately taken out (ie. destroyed or sent to slaughter early before the losses mount), and the facilities are cleaned and re-filled with certified MG-free chicks.  To the best of Dr. Bowes knowledge, BC commercial turkey farms are MG-free.

Not so for small flocks.  Dr. Bowes estimates that 60% of small flocks in BC test positive for MG.  This is the "auction barn disease", where unknown, known, or suspect birds are exposed or traded to others, thereby spreading the infection.

BC has been highly subsidizing the testing of small flocks for MG.  BC has not yet been successful in passing obligations on to the small flock owners once they know their status.  Many people choose to not know, so they are under no moral or legal compulsion to act once they know their flock's true status.  I suggested that this sounds a lot like HIV testing in the 1990's.  Today, we have learned (or most of us have learned) not to be judgemental, but take a public policy of harm reduction for maximum effectiveness and minimizing the spread of the disease.  Dr. Bowes agreed.

Unfortunately, the low cost testing and education programs offered by BC have not yet caused the incidence rate of MG in backyard flocks to diminish.  Perhaps that's where we come in. Certainly, there are crusaders against MG out there.  This posting was prompted by a flurry of emails and Facebook messages between SFPFC and Funky Fowl Farms

Further research found scientific reports demonstrating that MG can also invade human cells when tested in vitro. In vivo (ie. a live human), this human infection with MG may be prevented by some unknown immune system response, but maybe not. Could indiscriminate use of antibiotics create an evolution of MG into a superbug?  Mycoplasms aren't bacteria, for example mycoplasms have no cell wall, and they are parasites on their host organism for 100% of their nutrients.  Nobody fully understands how they work, so maybe it's possible.  What we are sure of, is that allowing the MG prevalence to rise may eventually lead to a SARS-like or Avian Flu-like human epidemic.  It seems prudent to minimize the spread of MG.  Perhaps we need to take the same or similar approach we have for smallpox or TB, shooting for total eradication.

Other research reports say transmission to wild flocks is possible.  The pandemic, wide spread prevalence of MG in wild flocks is a different genetic strain that that in domestic poultry.  Vaccination and regular testing for MG may be prudent in that case. Both smallpox and TB were pandemic world-wide infections at one point, yet today, smallpox is eradicated, and TB is very close to being defeated.

It has been found that QAC (Quartenary ammonium compounds) are ineffective against MG, probably because QAC generally attacks cell walls, and mycoplasms have no cell wall.  I had suggested that hydrogen peroxide solutions after thorough cleaning may be the best method.  Dr. Bowes was unaware of this QAC report, and also unsure about hydrogen peroxide.

There are known tests for MG, using SPA, HI as well as PCR, and genome sequencing.  Are these recommended by CFIA, or Canada's Supply Management Mafia?  Is there a  testing program available?  In BC there is, what about the rest of Canada?  Unknown at this time.

Perhaps this is a golden opportunity for small flockers to partner with government and the Supply Management Mafia.  There are numerous case studies that show when people work on a project with a shared, common goal, there is a significant gain in understanding, acceptance, and teamwork.

Lord knows that Canada and all Canadians could benefit for lots more of that.

SFPFC is willing.  Are the other two groups willing?  If you are a member in giovernment and/or the Supply Management Mafia (or know somebody who is), perhaps you can share this posting and this offer with them, and ask them to participate.  A future career as a matchmaker could await you.

* * * 

2014/01/07 Addendum:  I have now emailed CFIA, and all of the commercial turkey marketing agencies and Boards across Canada, asking them where they stand and what they understand about MG ( see Email here ).  It should be interesting to see what they say, if anything at all.  Be warned, the Supply Management Mafia tends to stonewall, deny, and ignore questions that they don't like.  Maybe they will have turned over a new wing feather, just for MG and my questions.  We'll have to wait and see.

2014/01/12 Addendum:   Susan Tritt, from Funky Fowl Farm, is an advocate for an intensive approach against MG.  Susan notes:
2013/10/30 1:06 PM   "Unfortunately the only vaccine available in Canada only works to suppress the disease. It doesn't actually kill the organism, so you are still left with the probability of depopulation. The other issue with the vaccine is that it only comes in 1000 dose size. So not suited for small flock farmers."
2014/01/11 11:06 PM   "An update on the vaccine. It is no longer available in Canada. The drug company that holds the distributorship did not make enough money on it so they will no longer produce it. I'm happy to report that we have finished testing our flock [at her farm], and can say that we are MG free."
2014/01/11 11:22 PM   "Read your blog [this Blog posting]. Fabulous write up. Hopefully we can encourage others to test. The only thing I would add to your information is that, you can treat sick birds, and they can appear well again, but they will always be carriers and are prone to reoccurances of illness, and are always shedding the organism and infecting new flock members."

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