Megabacteria – What Now?
A terrible and until recently difficult to treat disease, called megabacteria, occurs in many of our aviaries.The name “megabacteria” is misleading as it indicates that we have to do with bacteria, which is absolutely not the case. Various treatments with antibiotics have never yielded positive results.
The research: To identify the particular cause the infecting source needed to be isolated first and then grown into a culture. This process did take a long time but eventually the right nurturing medium was found. It is interesting to note that an antibiotic (Baytril) needed to be added to eliminate unwanted bacteria. It appeared that a fungus, subsequently named Macrorhabdus ornithogaster, was the culprit. Further tests were done to prove beyond doubt that we were dealing with a fungus and not a virus, bacteria, or other.
Microscopic images were taken of the fungus (also referred to as a yeast, but different from the one used to make bread rise). The fungi multiply by budding. It has a length of 20-90 micron and is 1-5 micron thick. A micron is a thousandth of a millimetre. A suitable colouring agent also had to be discovered to make the fungus visible under the microscope. An electron microscope magnifies about 200,000 times, sufficient to analyse the structure of the fungus and prove that it was a fungus with which we were dealing.
It was already known that M. Ornithogaster can barely survive an acidic environment. This explained why acidifying drinking water had a favourable effect on the disease. Water can be best acidified by adding apple cider vinegar, grapefruit juice or sour milk. But the discovery of the real cause has led to a much more effective treatment of the disease.
It had been noted with parakeets that not all birds in a community contracted the disease. Apparently some birds were more likely to be infected than others. This characteristic was also found to be hereditary. Another factor is the degree of inbreeding, which tends to play a greater role in aviaries. Furthermore Schulz and Von Lüttwitz discovered that the near total lack of Vitamin K1 in the diet strips the digestive tract of its mucous coating and makes the bird extremely vulnerable to the disease.
A suitable cure needed to be found amongst the anti-fungal treatments. Amphotericine B (Fungiline, Squibb-Fungiline) was soon found to foot the bill. It is introduced into the crop and cures the disease within five days. 0.15 to 0.3 ml Fungiline suspension (= 100mg Amphotericine-B per ml) is applied directly into the crop 3-4 times a day.
Amphotericine B, however, is not very soluble and the liquid required constant shaking to keep it in suspension.
The process was refined by adding gammacyclodextrine to improve the solubility of the substance. This was done by adding as much Amphotericine-B in a saturated solution of gammacyclodextrine as could be absorbed, filtering and then snap-freezing the solution. The resulting yellow powder was now readily soluble in water.
A number of diagnosed birds (parakeets in this case) were given the required amounts of medications. This involved 5g of the medicine mixed in water and added to a commercial seed mix and corresponds to a concentration of 0.9mg per milliliter of water. This may all sound a little complicated, but your local veterinary officer will know how to go about it. Each bird was placed in a separate cage each day and its droppings examined. After five days no more traces of the disease were found and the birds were definitely cured. They were a lot noisier, ate well and visibly much brighter.
The effect of the medicine is to damage the cell walls of the fungi causing the cell contents to leak out and the cell subsequently dies. The bird is thus cured. There are no negative effects with the poison on the bird provided the medicine is administered in the right strengths. The medicated water is ingested by the bird without any problems.
The senseless application of antibiotics encourages the development of fungal afflictions. In the interests of both birds and humans it is important to limit the use of antibiotics to an absolute minimum. The taking of medicine as a precaution is sheer madness as is the taking of a headache tablet when you don’t have one, only the implications are more disastrous and you give fungi the opportunity of becoming established.
Sugars also can cause fungi in the intestinal tract. Another point is that we need to have sufficient Vitamin K1 in our normal diet – vegetables and fruit, and in the stinging nettle. Spirulina is also fine, but rather dear.
Finally inbreeding should be strictly controlled and minimised as far as possible. Inbred animals are considerably weaker than the offspring from unrelated animals.I hope that this article will provide you with a step forward towards a “megabacteria-free” existence. Peter Otten.
Note: Dr Rob Marshall adds the following comments and qualifications: -
Symptoms – going light; excessive amounts of mucous causing bird to vomit; changed droppings – soft watery, dark green/brown/black; mortality; lack of coordination.
Stress and genetic makeup are key factors in making birds susceptible.
Possible side effects of Fungilin – kidney damage, infertility in healthy birds.
Fungilin should not be used on healthy birds!