Blackhead disease in poultry has been studied in a research project funded by USPOULTRY and the USPOULTRY Foundation at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga.
Molecular techniques were used to track outbreaks of Blackhead Disease, to correlate these outbreaks with specific isolates of Histomonas meleagridis, and to identify genes associated with the virulence of specific isolates. Additionally, the project tested whether a vaccination approach could be used to protect turkeys from this disease. Isolates from outbreaks in turkeys, broiler breeder chickens, layer chickens and bobwhite quail were tested for virulence and categorized by molecular markers.
Dr Robert Beckstead and Dr Larry McDougald at the University of Georgia found that there are many reservoirs of Blackhead disease and that isolates of the causative agent vary widely in their virulence and drug sensitivity. An experimental live attenuated vaccine failed to protect birds against the disease. Studies on the transmission of the disease indicate that spreading of litter from pullet houses in which flocks have had Blackhead disease may be an important risk factor for spreading the disease.