Neurorespiratory viruses in snakes
1. What viruses can snakes catch in Australia?
The viruses which have been confirmed as present in Australia are sunshinevirus, coronavirus, and bornavirus. Other viruses which are of concern overseas but are extremely rare or unconfirmed in Australia include arenavirus (Inclusion Body Disease) and ferlavirus (previously known as OPMV- Ophidian paramyxovirus).
2. What are the clinical signs of these viruses?
These viruses are considered to be neuro-respiratory viruses (cause disease in the lungs and/or brain). Clinical signs vary with the species of snake affected and specific virus present, but may include:
· bubbles from the nostrils or eyes
· difficulty righting self (turning over when placed on their back)
· difficulty striking or holding food, gaping with an open mouth
· weight loss/anorexia
· head tremors
· weakness, lethargy
3. Why are we concerned about these viruses?
At this stage there are no treatments available and it is difficult to say how long the incubation periods are. This means snakes may be infected but potentially not show signs of illness for months or even years. While some snakes may recover with supportive care (fluids, antibiotics for secondary infections), most cases carry a poor prognosis and euthanasia is often recommended.
There are no vaccines currently available.
4. How can we test for these viruses
Snakes can be tested at your reptile vet for the presence of these viruses. Samples are generally taken using a swab of the mouth and cloaca (vent). We recommend testing all new animals as soon after purchase as possible and again at least once more before the quarantine period is over.
5. How can we protect our snakes?
Purchasing snakes from reputable sources is important. Keepers should be licensed and able to account for movement of their animals. Illegal movement of snakes from the wild or from overseas increases the risk of introduction of serious viruses. The chance of viruses spreading is increased when a keeper lends snakes for breeding to others.
Quarantine new animals (keep in a separate room, with separate equipment and food, and wash hands and change clothes before handling other animals) for a period of 6 months before being moved to the main reptile keeping area. Snakes should be tested for these viruses initially when purchased, and then again before moving out of quarantine.
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