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Erysipelas

Red Skin, Erysipelothrix Infection

Erysipelas is an acute infectious bacterial disease that occurs most often in adult chickens during the fall. The disease is caused by infection with Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae (formally referred to as E. insidiosa) bacterium. Many deaths occur before any symptoms are seen. Most affected birds are visibly sick for only a short period of time before death. General symptoms include listlessness, weakness, loss of appetite, and sometimes yellowish or greenish diarrhea. In rare cases, chickens may develop purple to red colored blotches on their skin, which is the result of subcutaneous hemorrhaging.

Transmission
E. rhusiopathiae enters the chicken's body through breaks in the skin, such as open wounds and scratches. The organism is able to survive in the soil and decaying organic matter in the environment for long periods of time. The red poultry mite (Dermanyssus gallinae), is a potential vector of E. rhusiopathiae, and can act as reservoir hosts, allowing it to persist on the premises between flocks as a source of infection for the next flock of birds. Infection with E. rhusiopathiae has also been linked to chickens consuming fish meal. Chickens which recover from the disease may continue to shed E. rhusiopathiae in their droppings, and potentially place other flock members, as well as humans and other animals at risk.

Incubation period
With oral exposure, signs of disease show 2-3 days after infection.

Clinical Signs

Weakness
Skin scratches
Pale combs
Crusty, swollen eyes
Abnormal gait
Depression
Diarrhea (often greenish or yellowish)
Listlessness
Loss of appetite
Decreased egg production
Sudden death
Purplish or reddish skin blotches

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • PCR
  • Bacterial culture
  • Histopathology
  • Necropsy

Treatment

NameSummary
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
Sodium penicillin1,000,000 U/gal in drinking water for 4 or 5 days to all birds in the flock.

Prevention

  • Avoid the use of areas previously used by pigs, sheep, or turkeys.
  • Good management practices
  • Biosecurity

Scientific References

Age Range

Erysipelas is associated with sudden, high mortality in older flocks, often those infested with poultry red mites.

Risk Factors

  • History of recent injury
  • Getting fed fish meal
  • Red poultry mites on premises
  • Raising chickens in areas that previously contained pigs, sheep or turkeys
  • Roosters spurs were recently trimmed or dubbed.