It is vertically transmitted i.e. Can be passed from parent to offspring or can be horizontally transmitted i.e. From bird to bird through drinkers or direct contact.
Corvids are thought to be able to harbour the disease without showing signs but will be able to transmit it to game birds.
It’s important to know that your breeding stock is clean as to remove vertical transmission is a great start in the process of control.
There are two tests available to detect mycoplasma in game birds.
- PCR which detects the organism if it is present today. This is a very sensitive test, is expensive to carry out and only gives a snapshot of what’s happening today.
- Serology is a blood test and shows if the birds have been exposed in the last few weeks or months. This is more useful for surveillance of a flock rather than diagnosing the problem today so it is ideal to understand the status of a breeding flock.
The BGA has been involved alongside leading vet practices and the Scitech laboratory to validate this serology test. This means that the blood test is already available, but we do not know what levels represent positive or negative as the test was developed for chickens and not game birds. We took known positives and known negatives and the Scitech labs have discovered what constitutes positive and negative in game birds.
BGA has currently made this test available to shoots and game farms to allow them to fully understand their flock status; to access this test they must first register as a BGA member.
Game farmers and shoots can be accredited through the BGA audit process and do not need to do blood samples for mycoplasma if they do not wish to do so. However, knowing the status of your flock is very important for you to understand the consequences to your customers.
The blood sampling is a member benefit and the BGA intends to create more of these with time to support optimal health and welfare of BGA Assured game. The BGA works to make membership accessible to all game shoots and farms, and aims to grow membership to extend these benefits as far across the UK game bird flock as is possible.
The bloods are taken by your veterinary surgeon who should send them to the accredited laboratory for analysis. The results are sent to your vet, no-one else sees these and the matter remains completely confidential between the vet and the game farmer or shoot. The BGA have merely implemented the test as a benefit to their game farm and shoot members.
Any advice relating to the results are between you and your private veterinarian.
However, a positive to serology suggests the birds have been exposed to mycoplasma and it’s possible they can transmit the disease to their offspring. It does not mean however that the offspring will be infected but stress and stocking density may also have a part to play.
A negative result does not mean you are clear as the birds may just be developing the disease, so several blood tests are required to give you confidence the birds are really clear.
It’s very difficult to say that the birds are mycoplasma free however several clear blood tests stating that they are negative will give you the confidence that they are likely to be negative or very low risk.
You should always consult with your veterinarian for advice in interpreting blood or PCR results as it’s a complex disease.
BGA remains committed to investing into research and development to assist game farmers and shoots with more tests to allow assurance and comfort that their stock remains optimal in health and welfare and to achieve the highest standards possible in the British game sector.
The BGA is currently carrying out more research into mycoplasma. It is felt to be the most economically important disease in the game industry, responsible for the largest amount of antibiotic usage to treat its symptoms in 2019.
This has a major impact on the use of the meat for processing and for sales into the expanding retail market.