What are Paramyxovirus?
The paramyxovirus that attacks snakes is the Fer-de-Lance paramyxovirus, previously known as ophidian paramyxovirus. It's currently the only virus in the Ferlavirus genus. This virus attacks the respiratory system of the snake and can cause severe congestion and neurological disturbances. Although there is no cure for this disorder, supportive therapies and antibiotics to fight secondary infections may give the patient a better chance of surviving the virus. This disease most commonly strikes vipers but has also been seen in boas, colubrid species, and pit adders.
Symptoms of Paramyxovirus in Snakes
Snakes can be infected with this virus for months or years before showing any symptoms of this disorder.
- Abscesses in mouth
- Cheese-like pus in mouth
- Difficulty striking or gripping food
- Head tremors
- Increased respiratory sounds
- Nasal discharge
- Open mouth breathing
- Opisthotonos (severe twisting of the head and neck)
- Weight loss
The paramyxovirus, currently known as Fer-de-Lance paramyxovirus, was once referred to as the ophidian paramyxovirus and can cause severe respiratory congestion and neurological disturbances.
Paramyxoviruses in the paramyxoviridae family include several Genera. These can include:
- Aquaparamyxovirus - This genus contains only one species of virus, the Atlantic salmon paramyxovirus, which causes gill inflammation in fish
- Avulavirus - The several viruses in the avulavirus genus, all of which attack birds
- Ferlavirus - This is where we find the paramyxovirus that is common to snakes, the Fer-de-Lance paramyxovirus; this virus was previously known by the name ophidian paramyxovirus.
- Henipavirus - The viruses in this genus attack different mammalian animals, depending on the species of virus and are typically spread by infected Flying Foxes and occasionally other types of bat
- Morbillivirus - There are several well-known viruses that are classified as morbilliviruses, including measles and canine distemper
- Respirovirus - The five viruses in this genus employ humans and rodents as their natural hosts
- Rubulavirus - The viruses in this family are closely related to the avulavirus, but utilize humans, apes, pigs, and dogs as their natural hosts rather than birds
Causes of Paramyxovirus in Snakes
The paramyxovirus responsible for disease in snakes is more likely to strike vipers than other types of snakes. It appears to be transmitted by bodily fluids, shed cells, or parasites like mites, and can lie dormant for quite some time. In some cases, the virus can be spread from mother to offspring and diseases that compromise the immune system may create additional susceptibility.
Diagnosis of Paramyxovirus in Snakes
The veterinarian will start by asking you about the snake's recent behavior including its behavior on the way to the clinic; then its weight will be measured. The snake will then be thoroughly examined generally starting at the head. The veterinarian will note any signs indicating congestion in the eyes, ears, and oral cavity while making an evaluation. The snake's body will then be palpated, manually examining the heart, gallbladder, ribcage, and digestive tract, and checking for any swollen areas or abnormal masses.
The examining doctor will then determine the animal’s rate of breathing and will use an ultrasonic device known as a doppler to record the snake’s heart rate. A haemagglutination inhibition test may help to reveal exposure to this virus in living animals, but the definitive diagnosis is frequently made during the necropsy by virus isolation using tissues from the vital organs such as the lungs, liver, kidneys, or heart.
Treatment of Paramyxovirus in Snakes
Any reptile suspected of paramyxovirus should be quarantined from other reptiles as soon as possible to prevent the spread of this virus. As this virus can easily spread through a population of snakes, proper hygiene should observed when working with infected animals to ensure no cross infection takes place. Although there is no specific medication to fight the virus itself, supportive measures that are provided to the patient may improve their chances of surviving the illness on their own.
Fluid therapy is often offered to snakes that are showing signs of dehydration through oral, subcutaneous, intracoelomic, intraosseous, or intravenous options, and soaking the patient in warm water is frequently utilized in conjunction with the other methods. Antibiotics are often prescribed to snakes that are infected with this virus as they are more prone to contracting secondary bacterial infections than uninfected reptile. A vaccine for this disease is in the process of development, but it is not yet effective.
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Recovery of Paramyxovirus in Snakes
The prognosis for snakes that have contracted paramyxovirus is generally poor once symptoms have started, and many reptiles with this disease are euthanized. Prevention is the best form of protection from the virus, and a quarantine period of at least three to six months and testing to ensure the specimen is free of the paramyxovirus is recommended when a new animal is being brought into a collection, both when it first enters quarantine and just before it is introduced into a collection in order to protect the previous members. The quarantine should not only be a separate tank, but a snake that is being quarantined should also be housed in an entirely different room than other snakes.