Mycobacterial infections are an important cause of morbidity and mortality in birds and a considerable diagnostic challenge until the disease is advanced. In order to develop more clinically useful antemortem tests, a biological model was created that replicated naturally occurring disease.
Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica; n = 8) were inoculated intravenously with Mycobacterium avium. Two additional birds served as uninoculated controls. Mean survival time of the inoculated birds was 68 ± 13 days postinoculation (PI). Seven of the eight inoculated birds died naturally. Clinical and postmortem abnormalities in inoculated birds were characteristic of naturally occurring mycobacteriosis. Abnormal clinical findings included decreased activity, feather erection, and sudden death. Mean body weight and packed cell volume declined and mean total white blood cells (primarily heterophils, bands, and monocytes) increased from 28 days PI onward.
Similar to birds that are naturally infected with mycobacteriosis, the inoculated birds were thin and had severe hepatosplenomegaly on postmortem examination. All eight birds had lesions in the liver, spleen, intestine, lung, gonads, and serosa. Less commonly affected tissues included bone marrow, thymus, gizzard, heart, pancreas, and brain. Lesions were invariably severe in the liver and spleen. These gross postmortem findings were consistent with natural infections of avian mycobacteriosis.
Mycobacterium avium was isolated from the liver, spleen, and intestine of all inoculated birds. Both control birds remained disease free and culture negative. This inoculation protocol is a reliable and practical means of inducing avian mycobacteriosis for further study.