A breast with rice breast disease
A breast with rice breast disease

Rice breast disease monitoring

What is it?

More commonly referred to as ‘rice breast’ disease, Sarcocystosis is a parasitic disease caused by the parasite Sarcocystis spp. It infects the muscle of wildfowl sometimes causing weakness, which can result in decreased survival rates and reproductive success.

Birds play an important role in the lifecycle of this parasite. During later stages of infection in birds, the parasite creates cysts throughout the muscles, particularly in the breast and leg which resemble grains of rice, hence the name ‘rice breast’ disease.

An example of a breast with rice breast disease
An example of Sarcocystosis when cysts are large and numerous within the muscle.
An example of a breast with rice breast disease
An example of a breast with rice breast disease

Why is this project important?

Sarcocystosis can affect various quarry species. And as most members of the shooting community shoot with the intention of consuming what they shoot, it is crucial to know how to spot the signs of the disease.

Although Sarcocystosis in birds does pose a minimal threat to humans as cooking kills all stages of the parasite, is it not recommended to ingest infected birds, nor to feed them to dogs.

In order to preserve our UK duck populations, it is vital that we act responsibly and monitor the disease as best we can in order to understand its impacts on our wildfowl and track the spread of the disease.

How to get involved

Wildfowlers play a crucial role in the identification and reporting of this disease.

Your help in recording cases is key to increasing our understanding of Sarcocystosis occurrence and its impact in the UK. We ask that you remain vigilant and report any findings of rice breast disease to us by filling out our UK Wildfowl Sarcocystosis survey form.

Summary of findings

In 2018 a feedback report was published, using data provided through the UK Wildfowl Sarcocystis Survey and results from tissue sample analysis from across the UK. The report identified the emergence, distribution, and potential impacts of Sarocystosis infection in the UK waterfowl population.

We saw a sudden increase in reported cases in the 2013/14 season, however, this may be a reflection of increased vigilance and understanding of the disease as well as improved awareness of the reporting system.

The most commonly reported species were mallard, wigeon and teal, although this may be simply because they are the most commonly shot species. Reported cases have been more highly concentrated in northern and eastern regions of the country which may indicate that the disease is spreading from Europe.

Your reported sightings are vital to helping us track the geographical spread of this disease.