These are some of the many unanswered questions remaining regarding the outbreak of MG in house finches and goldfinches in the eastern half of the US:
- How is MG spread among finches? Is there more then one way it can be spread?
- If it requires close contact to be spread, then just "how close" must it be?
- Does the MG organism reside in host finches in a dormant state, as some suspect, only to become active due to some stress of some sort (such as severe winter weather)? If so, what percentage of finches may be carrying this dormant MG?
- Are treated finches, including those that have recovered and been symptom free for extended periods, still "shedders" of the disease, able to spread it to others? Can treated finches relapse or recatch the disease again, once free of symptoms for an extended period?
- How long does the MG organism survive once outside its host, remaining alive to infect a new host? Does cold temperature or exposure to sunlight or other conditions shorten its lifespan outside its host?
- Can bird feeders or the seed they hold become contaminated and spread the disease? Is any one type of feeder (tube, tray, platform, etc.) more prone to encourage the spread of MG? Or do feeders simply act as gathering points for large numbers of finches, bringing the birds close together where it can be spread more easily?
- Would even daily cleanings of feeders in bleach solution make any difference, assuming MG's lifespan outside its host is so short? Do we know for a fact that the typical 10 percent bleach solution kills MG?
- Considering the scope of this disease, is the bird feeder industry or the birding community, including wildlife organizations and birding publications, at large, doing anything specifically to help fight the spread of MG (for example, funding research into its spread and control?)
- Would the use of antibacterial materials in the manufacture of bird feeders, such as those with Microban (r), be of any help? If not with MG, then perhaps with other feeder-station diseases? Or can feeders themselves be designed better, say, making them easier to disassemble, perhaps even "dish-washer safe," thereby encouraging regular feeder cleanings by making them easier to keep clean to begin with?
- What it the long term prognosis for the disease and its overall impact among finches and other songbirds? Are some finches showing any sign of already having some immunity or resistance to the MG organism? Have any been confirmed to have recovered on their own, without medication. And how common is that?
© 1997 James Cook
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