Wildlife Disease and Zoonotics


Date of this Version

December 1999


Published in Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases: General Field Procedures and Diseases of Birds, edited by Milton Friend and J. Christian Franson, USGS-National Wildlife Health Center, 1999 (online 2007; http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/publications/field_manual/).


Historically, viral diseases have not been recognized as major causes of illness and death in North American wild birds. Until relatively recently, this may have been due to inadequate technology to culture and identify these organisms. Unlike bacteria, viruses are too small to be seen under the light microscope and they cannot be grown on artificial media. Nevertheless, studies of infectious diseases caused by viruses have often predated discovery of the causative agents by many years as evidenced by smallpox immunizations being used centuries before that virus was identified. The isolations of a tobacco mosaic virus in 1892 and foot and mouth disease viruses in 1898 mark the development of virology as a distinct biological science. The era of modern virology began in the post-World War II years of 1945–50 with the application of cell culture techniques to the study of animal viruses.