Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy

In November 1994 to December 1994, twenty-three bald eagles died due to an unknown cause (Fischer 1995).In November 1996, American coots were also found dead or dieing due to this mysterious disease (Fischer 1997).Labeled Coot and Eagle Brain Lesion Syndrome, it was changed to Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy when it was discovered to affect other species as well.It has become the most significant unknown cause of eagle mortality in the history of the United States.Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy causes lesions in the white matter of the brain and the spinal cord of an affected bird (USACE).What causes Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy remains a mystery even to this day.
Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy is an avian disease that is believed to be caused by a neurotoxin of unknown origin.It causes lesions in the white matter of the brain and in the spinal cord of affected birds.Dead Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy birds appear to be in good body condition and have no visible external or internal changes with the exception of microscopic neural lesions.Electron Microscopy is used to confirm the disease, but can only be used on fresh specimens that have not been frozen.The clinical signs of a bird affected with Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy are quite noticeable.A water bird will demonstrate a partial paralysis on one side of the body.This will result with the bird swimming with one leg extended, swimming in circles, and swimming upside down.A bird flying will demonstrate erratic flight, a reluctance to fly, or an inability to fly.On the ground, affected birds stagger and wobble.Bald Eagles affected with AVIAN VACUOLAR MYELINOPATHY have been seen flying into trees and rock ledges.Brain lesions have also been found in coots that showed no clinical signs of infection.A few sick eagles have been captured alive and sent to clinics for treatment, but they all died within 1-2 days despite medical assistance (USACE).

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