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Bacterial pathogens in wild birds: a review of the frequency and effects of infection.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>08/2009
<mark>Journal</mark>Biological Reviews
Issue number3
Number of pages25
Pages (from-to)349-373
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The importance of wild birds as potential vectors of disease has received recent renewed empirical interest, especially regarding human health. Understanding the spread of bacterial pathogens in wild birds may serve as a useful model for examining the spread of other disease organisms, both amongst birds, and from birds to other taxa. Information regarding the normal gastrointestinal bacterial flora is limited for the majority of wild bird species, with the few well-studied examples concentrating on bacteria that are zoonotic and/or relate to avian species of commercial interest. However, most studies are limited by small sample sizes, the frequent absence of longitudinal data, and the constraints of using selective techniques to isolate specific pathogens. The pathogenic genera found in the gut are often those suspected to exist in the birds' habitat, and although correlations are made between bacterial pathogens in the avian gut and those found in their foraging grounds, little is known about the effect of the pathogen on the host, unless the causative organism is lethal. In this review, we provide an overview of the main bacterial pathogens isolated from birds (with particular emphasis on enteropathogenic bacteria) which have the potential to cause disease in both birds and humans, whilst drawing attention to the limitations of traditional detection methods and possible study biases. We consider factors likely to affect the susceptibility of birds to bacterial pathogens, including environmental exposure and heterogeneities within the host population, and present probable avenues of disease transmission amongst birds and from birds to other animal taxa. Our primary aim is to identify gaps in current knowledge and to propose areas for future study.