Blackhead Disease – Backyard Chickens’ Health and Care

Illnesses in chickens

What is Blackhead Disease?

Blackhead disease, also known as histomoniasis, is a parasitic disease that affects turkeys, chickens, and other avian species. Blackhead disease can cause significant mortality in affected flocks and is a major concern for the poultry industry worldwide.

Blackhead Disease Symptoms

The clinical signs of blackhead disease can vary depending on the severity of the infection and the species affected. In turkeys, the disease can cause sudden death or a gradual onset of lethargy, anorexia, and diarrhoea. Affected birds may also show signs of depression, weakness, and a drop in egg production. In chickens, the disease can cause a drop in egg production, diarrhoea, and respiratory signs.

Blackhead Disease Causes

Blackhead disease is caused by the protozoan parasite Histomonas meleagridis, which can infect a wide range of avian species. The parasite is transmitted through ingestion of contaminated soil or poop, and can also be spread by earthworms, mites, and other arthropods. The disease is more common in turkeys than in chickens, and is typically associated with outdoor production systems.

Blackhead Disease Diagnosis

Diagnosis of blackhead disease is based on clinical signs, postmortem findings, and laboratory testing. Histopathological examination of affected tissues, such as the liver and cecum, can confirm the presence of the parasite. Serological testing can also be used to detect antibodies to the parasite.

Blackhead Disease Treatment

There is no specific treatment for blackhead disease, and infected birds should be isolated and removed from the flock to prevent further spread of the parasite. Supportive care can be provided to affected birds to help reduce clinical signs and maintain hydration.

Blackhead Disease Prevention

Prevention of blackhead disease is focused on controlling the spread of the parasite. Good management practices, including regular cleaning and disinfection of facilities, controlling access to outdoor areas, and minimising contact with wild birds, can help reduce the risk of infection. Treatment of the soil with disinfectants or lime can also help reduce the number of viable parasites in the environment.


Blackhead disease is a significant disease of turkeys and chickens that can cause significant mortality in affected flocks. Good management practices, including regular cleaning and disinfection, can help reduce the risk of infection. Prompt diagnosis and isolation of affected birds are important components of effective disease control programs.

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