Diphtheritic stomatitis is a seasonal disease that has been recognized as a syndrome in Yellow-eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) chicks in New Zealand for >10 yr. It was present in about 50% of 234 chicks examined since 2002 and is characterized by a thick serocellular exudate in the oral cavity of 1–4-wk-old chicks. The syndrome includes inanition, weight loss, and death in many affected birds. Microscopically, the lesions varied in severity. Most affected chicks had severe, locally extensive, ulcerative stomatitis with large amounts of exudate containing numerous bacteria; a smaller number had mild focal lesions with smaller amounts of exudate and bacteria. Although Corynebacterium amycolatum has been consistently isolated from the oral lesions, it was also present in the oral cavity of 34% of normal adult penguins and their chicks and is not known to possess diphtheritic toxins. A primary viral pathogen was therefore suspected, and intracytoplasmic inclusion bodies were occasionally seen in oral mucosal epithelial cells. No herpesvirus DNA was detected with PCR. Avipoxvirus DNA and an unidentified virus-like agent were detected in some early oral lesions, but could not be confirmed in subsequent testing. Electron microscopy on early affected epithelium with intracytoplasmic inclusion bodies was unrewarding. Our findings raise the possibility that the disease is caused by an unknown primary virus infection followed by secondary Corynebacterium invasion, but this requires confirmation. The means of transmission has not been established but insect vectors are suspected.
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Vol. 53 • No. 1