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Blackhead disease is a common and serious illness in turkeys that no available medication can treat. This NebGuide discusses the organisms that cause the disease and prevention strategies.
Raising small turkey home flocks in the early summer and late fall is extremely popular in Nebraska. Most of these birds are destined for slaughter just before Thanksgiving and are sold for the holiday market. Extension educators and specialists receive many calls concerning sick turkeys in the late summer and early fall months from flock owners concerned about whether their turkeys have Blackhead. Most poultry flock owners have heard of this disease but few really understand the cause or how the illness is spread.
Blackhead, also known as Histomoniasis, is caused by a microscopic, single-celled organism Histomonas meleagridis. Although best known as a disease of turkeys, the organism infects other birds as well, including peafowl, pheasants, quail, grouse, partridge, and chickens. Of these, the chicken is most resistant to illness from Blackhead. Hence, chickens can be carriers and can contaminate a premise, but they usually do not get sick. The turkey is probably the most susceptible and becomes severely ill if infected. This is why it is best to raise chickens and turkeys in separate facilities and in separate pens.