Identification of a novel clade of group A rotaviruses in fatally diseased domestic pigeons in Europe
Rotaviruses are well-known causative agents of enteric disorders in humans and other mammals, but little is known about their virulence and pathogenic role in pigeons and other birds. Starting in summer 2017, a series of outbreaks of an acute disease with high mortalities was reported in domestic pigeons in Germany, Belgium and Denmark. The clinical picture was characterized by diarrhoea, vomiting, hepatic necrosis and sudden fatalities. From these severe outbreaks, we discovered several previously unknown group A rotavirus (RVA) lineages of genotype G18P-I4-R4-C4-M4-A4-T4-N4-E19-H4, which were closely related but not identical to an RVA variant identified in cases of fatal hepatic necrosis in Australian pigeon lofts in 2016. Retrospective analysis demonstrated that the predecessors of the highly virulent variants have circulated in Europe since at least 2010. Our data indicate that reassortment and intercontinental spread has led to the emergence of novel RVA variants, which may constitute a major threat to animal welfare and health of domestic pigeon populations worldwide.