CASE DESCRIPTION Within a 2-week period, 4 southern cassowaries (Casuarius casuarius) at an exhibit at a Virginia zoo died acutely subsequent to eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) infection. This prompted a search for other EEEV outbreaks in cassowaries, which resulted in the identification of 2 additional cassowaries that died of EEEV infection at a conservation center in Florida.
CLINICAL FINDINGS Both juvenile and adult birds were affected. Three of the 6 birds died acutely with no premonitory signs. Clinical disease in the other 3 birds was characterized by lethargy and ataxia. Clinicopathologic findings typically included leukocytosis, hyperuricemia, abnormally high liver enzyme activities, and hyper–β globulinemia, which was indicative of acute inflammation.
TREATMENT AND OUTCOME The 3 birds with clinical disease died despite supportive treatment. Gross abnormalities commonly observed during necropsy included coelomitis and evidence of diarrhea. Frequently observed histologic abnormalities were encephalitis, vasculitis, hepatitis, nephritis, and splenitis. The diagnosis of EEEV infection was confirmed by detection of serum anti-EEEV antibodies or detection of viral RNA in brain tissue by use of a reverse-transcriptase PCR assay.
CLINICAL RELEVANCE Findings suggested that EEEV can cause high morbidity and mortality rates in southern cassowaries. Clinical disease might be reduced or prevented by vaccination, isolation of ill birds, and mosquito control strategies.