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Mycoplasmal Conjunctivitis in House Finches

Posted on 16. December, 2010.

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This bacterial disease causes conjunctivitis in one or both eyes of the host. In the next issue of Avian Biology Research, Andrew K. Davis tests the idea that this disease is more prominent in the left eye of infected birds.

One of the most well-studied avian diseases is the annual outbreak of Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) infections in house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) in North America. This is a bacterial disease that causes conjunctivitis in one or both eyes of the host.

While studying this disease in a New York finch population, researchers observed that there was a tendency for the conjunctivitis to be more prominent in the left eye of infected birds, although the small sample size of that study made it difficult to draw conclusions regarding this unusual observation.

Here, this idea is tested further using a larger data set from a 4-year trapping study of house finches in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, a location with a high prevalence of MG infections. The severity of conjunctivitis in each eye of infected birds was scored on a 0-3 scale, and these data were statistically examined to identify possible side-biases in severity. Out of 254 house finches with conjunctivitis, the eye scores of all left eyes were significantly higher than right eye scores.

There was no evidence for differential effects of conjunctivitis in left-bias or right-biased infections, and the left-biased pattern was similar in both sexes and in adult and young birds. These results confirm the anecdotal observation from the New York population and suggest that this is a universal phenomenon in the house finch–MG system.

The significance of the finding is unknown, although the possibility exists that house finches display a degree of ‘handedness’ that causes their left sides to be exposed more frequently to potential fomites (i.e. bird feeders).

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