A Better Understanding of Inclusion Body Disease in Boas and Pythons

December 28, 2016
Kerry Lengyel

A new study published in The Veterinary Journal explores inclusion body disease, a fatal infection that affects boid snakes, and provides information that may help veterinarians better protect and care for boas and pythons.

Inclusion body disease (IBD) is a serious, incurable viral infection of boid snakes—pythons and boas—that has been recognized since the mid-1970s. A new study published in The Veterinary Journal explores the disease in depth and may help veterinarians better protect and care for the boid snake population.

IBD is caused by a reptarenavirus that progresses more rapidly in pythons than in boas, but signs of the disease are fairly similar in both species. Clinical signs are variable and can include tremors, abnormal shedding, anorexia, clogged nostrils, pneumonia, paralysis, the inability to strike or constrict, and disorientation. Snakes with the disease can be found stargazing or unable to right themselves when turned over on their backs.

The current strategy for facing IBD involves identifying and isolating affected snakes, but definitive diagnosis is difficult and the infection can spread to other snakes before clinical signs of illness and chronic disease develop.

The study team included researchers from the University of Florida, Colorado State University, and the University of California, San Francisco. The team discovered that many boas that are classified as healthy not only may have the reptarenavirus but may also have subclinical IBD.

After testing 131 snakes, the researchers discovered that 19% had IBD. Of those affected, 87% remained clinically healthy. This discovery can help those with reptile collections understand that snakes with IBD can be asymptomatic, which can benefit the other snakes in the collection.

In addition to gaining a better understanding of the subclinical nature of IBD, the development of new, specific diagnostic tests was a major finding of this study.

Before this study, infectious IBD was not well understood, but these findings have the possibility of better informing veterinary teams and creating a happier and healthier environment for boas and pythons.