Infectious LaryngioTracheitis (ILT)

When we think of respiratory disease in poultry we often think of infectious bronchitis virus or Mycoplasma, however there is another rather harmful virus that belongs to the herpes virus family that causes ILT.

Gaping ChickensThe virus is spread though birds inhaling or ingesting the virus. It goes on to replicate in the trachea (the windpipe) of the chicken leading to inflammation of the trachea. This causes the bird to gasp for air often resembling gape worm infection. In very severe cases the inflammation is so severe that the bird bleeds into its trachea. This blood goes on to clot and can block the windpipe suffocating the affected bird.

As with all viruses antibiotics will not help clear up the infection though they may prevent secondary bacterial infections. Anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed by your vet to reduce the inflammation and relieve the associated pain. In some cases your vet may be able to spot and remove any blood clots from the bird’s windpipe.

Making a correct diagnosis of this condition can be difficult. It often requires a biopsy of the windpipe (usually taken from birds that have passed away) being sent off as the blood tests aren’t especially helpful.

One of the biggest problems with ILT and any herpes virus for that matter is that once a chicken is infected with ILT it will carry the virus for life. Such birds can re-develop signs of the infection and shed the virus once stressed. This could be due to being taken to a market or show or indeed by living in a poorly ventilated shed.

If you have birds that you know to be infected it is crucial that they are not stressed if at all possible. Always ensure poultry have good air quality in their coops and that in winter the vents are not completely shut. If a poultry keeper has infected birds and uninfected birds it is best to keep them separate. If infected birds are moved the coop must be cleaned out then thoroughly washed with a detergent (washing up liquid will do) then allowed to dry before a suitable disinfectant is applied. (ILT is a distant relative of the Marek’s virus and as such any disinfectant that is licensed against Mareks will likely successfully destroy the ILT virus.

There is a vaccine however it comes in large dose packs and must be very precisely administered.

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Richard Jackson BVMs (Hons) MRCVS

Richard was born in Ireland and spent time working on his father's commercial turkey farm. He developed a keen interest in poultry, breeding & showing rare breeds. Richard works for St. David's Poultry AKA Chickenvet.

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