Alarm bells were sounding in the United Kingdom in October. Nope, it wasn’t another economic crisis, but a bout of the so-called “zombie pigeon” disease.#

Pigeons were making odd movements and behaving strangely. They were twisted their necks to unnatural angles, were unable to eat, wandered aimlessly around in circles… Something was happening.

Experts pointed towards the cause: paramyxovirus. The disease, while not fatal to humans, is lethal to aviary animals that contract it.

A number of pigeons had to be euthanised on the Channel island of Jersey. As of October there were no recorded cases of paramyxovirus on the British mainland.

The birds, in addition to the twisted neck, lost weight due to the physical impossibility of eating and walked in circles with clear neurological signs of the brain, as confirmed by the veterinary analyses.

Seagulls in the Snow by Ron Hill
Two Gulls loving the snow in an Uckfield Garden !!!

What is paramyxovirus?

The British government last updated their disease guidance for paramyxovirus back in 2018. It states that the disease does not usually affect humans though does affect pigeons, as the images suggest.

Signs of paramyxovirus infection in pigeons may include:

  • nervous signs, including trembling wings and heads, and twisting of the neck
  • partial paralysis of wings and legs (birds may fall over on landing and be unable to feed)

They also became thin from not being able to eat and not being able to sit still while they produce green feces.

How can the disease spread?

The disease is spread by direct contact between pigeons and through:

  • pigeon transporters that have not been adequately cleaned and disinfected
  • drinking water in lofts and transporters
  • pigeon fanciers carrying infection on their clothes, hands and feet

JSPCA Animal Shelter told the Mirror that the illness has no treatment “and many birds die within a few days”.

“Any that do survive will continue to shed the virus and be a risk to other birds,” a spokesperson added. “At the JSPCA, affected birds are humanely euthanased.”

This disease cannot affect humans, but it can cause conjunctivitis in those who handle sick birds.


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