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January 2001

Vaccine Against Clostridia In Swans
Shows Promise In Pilot Titre Tests

Index to The Regal Swan Project

Orlando, Florida

A Florida team of researchers from The Regal Swan© project has announced its findings from pilot titre tests conducted in English Mute Swans vaccinated against botulism. Clostridia titre testing was conducted by Pfizer Animal Health to determine the levels of clostridial antibodies in swans inoculated with Pfizer,s Ultrabac CD® vaccine. The use of the vaccine in swans was pioneered by Dr. Wade G. Gardner, Lakeland Veterinary Hospital, in the early 80,s to mitigate swan deaths due to botulism. Titre tests indicated clostridia antibody response in swans from Orange Lake Resort & Country Club, Orlando, Florida and Lake Morton, Lakeland, Florida. The control group was provided by Memphis Zoo, Memphis, Tennessee and showed no measurable clostridia antibody response.

Botulism is a silent killer that strikes quickly. In most cases, the swan dies after ingesting the neurotoxin. Botulism is a neurotoxin produced by the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum. There are eight main types of neurotoxins produced, of which, only Types A and C are believed to cause disease in birds, while A, B, C & E can be found in man. The neurotoxins are released by the bacteria found in dead and decaying plant or animal matter in the muck found in lake or pond bottoms. Swans are extremely susceptible to the toxin because they are bottom feeders.

Botulism, tetanus and gas gangrene are diseases caused by a family of microbes known as clostridia. Most clostridia are classified as anaerobes because they are sensitive to oxygen. Gas gangrene is caused by a bacterium known as Clostridia perfringens. Gas gangrene is an infection which is marked by extensive tissue death and the production of gas.

In cattle, the disease is especially fatal to calves because some of the young bovines cannot readily digest the high lactose in their mother,s milk. This slowing of the digestive process does not allow for the normal expulsion of toxins from their systems. Due to the high mortality rates, a vaccine was developed to innoculate calves as well as older herd members from Type C as well as other C. perfringens related diseases.

Dr. Wade G. Gardner realized that C. perfringens related diseases could mimic botulism and knew that an established vaccine existed. Pfizer,s Ultrabac CD® vaccine is the vaccine that Dr. Gardner and his son, Dr. Geoffrey R. Gardner, have used to protect swans against botulism. The Gardners have successfully used the vaccine in English Mute Swans, Polish Mute Swans, South
American Black-Necked Swans, internationally protected South American Coscoroba Swans and Australian Black Swans for more than 20 years.

Prior to titre testing in The Regal Swan© project, no known titre testing in swans had occurred due to the unavailability or limited titre testing technology. Dr. Wade Gardner and Dr. Geoffrey Gardner relied on swan necropsies and medical histories to document deaths and illnesses due to botulism and other causes. After using Pfizer,s Ultrabac CD® vaccine, necropsies and veterinarian examinations of the swans appeared to show that the swans were being protected against clostridia related diseases, specifically, botulism.

The significance of the testing is two-fold. The testing established a baseline for future testing which may further enhance avian veterinary and swan medicine. Furthermore, these pilot tests indicate that a vaccine such as Ultrabac CD® may be used in swans to afford protection against clostridia related diseases. The test results will be used to develop inoculation protocols for swans worldwide by The Regal Swan© project team.

Project team members include: Geoffrey R. Gardner, D.V.M., Lakeland Veterinary Hospital, Lakeland, Florida; Fanchon F. Funk, Ed.D., Associate Professor, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida; Sheila A. Bolin, M.S., Swan Keeper, Orange Lake Resort & Country Club, Orlando, Florida; Rebecca Webb Wilson, J.D., Professional Photographer and Lifetime Trustee of the Memphis Zoological Society, Memphis, Tennessee; and Shirley A. Bolin, A.G.S., Professional Photographer and Staff Writer, Orange Lake Resort & Country Club, Orlando, Florida.

Lake Morton, located in the center of downtown Lakeland is a natural brackish-water lake which is spring fed. Swans were first introduced to the lake in 1927. In 1957, Queen Elizabeth II donated a mating pair of English Mute Swans to the City of Lakeland. Many of Lake Morton,s swan flock are direct descendants of the Royal pair. Lake Morton served as the natural lake site for the pilot titre tests.

Orange Lake Resort and Country Club is an 1,100-acre resort developed by Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inn. For many years, Orange Lake has been the home of English Mute Swans. Orange Lake,s swans were purchased from the City of Lakeland and are direct descendants of the Royal swans. This fact led to research which spawned the current partnership with Pfizer. Orange Lake,s Fountain Lake served as the man-made lake site for the pilot titre tests.

The Regal Swan© project team has contacted swan keepers throughout the world. Mr. Roger Cullingham, (ThamesWeb, Windsor, England), assisted project team members in contacting swan caretakers throughout England. Information concerning the research project can be found at The Regal Swan on The Royal Windsor Web Site. The results of the testing and research into the care of captive swans will be released in the book, The Regal Swan.©

Sponsors of The Regal Swan© project include: American Camper, Blitz® USA, Bushnell Sports Optics Worldwide, Cobra Electronics, Hunt Manufacturing Company, Lakeland Veterinary Hospital, Orange Lake Resort & Country Club, Pfizer Animal Health, The Sports Authority and Timex®.

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