Since 1994 an epidemic of mycoplasmal conjunctivitis has spread throughout the eastern house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) population leading to a significant decline in this population. The infection has not yet been reported from house finch populations west of the Great Plains. We hypothesized that the western population, like the eastern population, is susceptible to infection, and we tested this hypothesis by experimentally infecting house finches from Missoula, Montana (USA) with the house finch strain of Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG). We compared the response of finches from Montana infected with MG to that of finches from Auburn, Alabama (USA) (October 1999–February 2000). Fifteen house finches from Montana were shipped to Auburn and quarantined for 6 wk at the Auburn University aviary. All birds were negative for MG antibodies when tested by serum plate agglutination assay and MG could not be detected in any bird by polymerase chain reaction. We tested two methods of inoculation, ocular inoculation and contact exposure to an infected finch. Seven house finches from Montana and four house finches from Alabama were infected by bilateral ocular inoculation with 20 μl of a culture containing 1 × 106 color changing units of the house finch strain of MG. The remaining eight house finches from Montana were co-housed with a house finch from Alabama exhibiting mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. After exposure to the pathogen, all house finches became infected, regardless of origin or method of exposure, and all developed conjunctivitis. All birds seroconverted, and evidence of infection could be detected in every bird at some point during the course of disease. Our results suggest that house finches from the western United States are highly susceptible to infection with the house finch strain of MG.
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Vol. 38 • No. 2