Sarcocystosis, or ‘rice breast’ disease of ducks, is caused by the parasite Sarcocystis spp and seems to be on the rise in the UK. The parasite has a relatively complex life cycle using birds as an intermediate host and carnivores as the end host. Within birds in later stages of infection the parasite creates cysts throughout the muscles, in particular the breast and leg, which look like grains of rice. You can find more information, including details on how to submit sightings on the project website
Risks to humans and domestic animals
Sarcocystis in birds is not thought to pose a risk to human health as cooking kills all stages of the parasite. However, it is not recommended to eat infected birds, nor to feed them to dogs.
Get involved in the surveillance
It is hoped that the UK Wildfowl Sarcocystis Survey will help us monitor the disease over time in the UK and better understand which bird species are affected and any impacts it may be having.
Wildfowlers are well placed to look out for this disease and report likely cases as the pathology is quite striking. If you are a wildfowler and find ducks or geese with what looks like rice breast disease please report cases using the survey form http://www.sarcocystissurvey.org.uk/survey-form/ Please use one form per case. If you are willing to save some affected tissues for further analysis that would be especially useful, please see the details on the form.
Based on the data so far, rice breast disease seems to be becoming more common with a sudden increase since the 2013/14 season. Most of the cases are clustered around the north and east of the country, suggesting it may be spreading from Europe. Your sightings are even more important now to help to track the spread of this disease.
Mallard, wigeon and teal are the three most commonly reported species to be infected. However, this might just be because they are the most commonly shot. You can find a full report on the survey so far on the project website (http://www.sarcocystissurvey.org.uk/2015-2018-feedback-report/)
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