Mountain tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) in natural environment, South Africa
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How to Tell if Your Tortoise Has Acquired Herpesvirus

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Herpes is an extremely serious disease, and its intensity can actually lead to fatality in tortoises. One first thing to note is that this problem is not to be confused with the herpes virus that affects humans. In humans, this is a relatively mild condition, but the intensity is different for tortoises. Here are some of the important things to know about herpesvirus for tortoises.

What is Herpes Virus?

In chelonian, the herpes virus is an infection that can lead to massive lesions, respiratory problems, swelling, and subsequent death. If the tortoises are affected, they can suffer from bacterial, fungal, protozoan, and other concurrent health concerns. These are all presumably linked to a compromised immune system. At present, there is no known effective treatment for this kind of problem. Mortality is known to occur for organisms when all known symptoms are consequently occurring at 100 percent.

One important thing to know about herpes virus in tortoises is that it is contagious. One single affected animal can infect other species that it comes into direct contact with it. This is a crucial point of concern if you have a collection of tortoises around. The term direct contact can be linked to shared feeding locations and being in contact with an affected animal’s bodily fluids or excretions.

If one single tortoise gets infected, this disease can rapidly spread to all the tortoises. In fact, there are many reports that can support the principle that 100 percent of mortality can be expected in communities like this. In such situations, what you should do as a reptile owner is to protect the rest of the tortoises under your care. Assuredly, in cases such as this one, the trend known by veterinarian and tortoise hobbyists, there have been no long-term survivors that are known once advanced symptoms commence.

What Are The Stages of Herpes Virus That You Must Watch Out For?

  1. Incubation Time – The first thing to note in monitoring this illness is the incubation time. Incubation time can be measured as the first stage by which the symptoms first appear. There is, in fact, some evidence where the symptoms gradually show up for years. In one case, the tortoise did not develop serious symptoms until after 10 years of exposure. But, of course, the majority of the cases develop right away and in this period, the infected animal is most prone to sharing the virus by shedding microorganisms that can infiltrate and infect other tortoises. Again, these animals might not show any outward signs that they have already been infected.
  2. The second thing to note on tortoises is that it is still unknown whether the herpes virus works independently, or if there are underlying causes that have yet to be found out. Scientists are presently trying to identify whether herpes virus is the primary instigator of the symptoms or if it plays a secondary role in an unidentified causal organism. There are even several different viral pathogens that are also found out as possible causative agents of this problem.

What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Herpesvirus in Tortoises

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Herpesvirus is known to cause lesions in the lining of the mouth of a tortoise, including the tongue and the choana, which is the opening that can be found on the roof of a tortoise’s mouth. The choana is the body part that allows the nose of the tortoise to being connected with its windpipe.

As the infection of herpesvirus evolves, a thick off-white and yellow mucus will be seen coating the tortoise’s mouth.

You can also tell that the tortoise is not in its best shape when it becomes reluctant to eat and drink. It also typically has a crusty nose or a runny nose partnered with a drooling mouth or a crusted mouth, as well.

Other signs that you can watch out for are audible whistles whenever the tortoise is breathing. Most of the time, the same turtles can also be heard, producing a gurgling noise or being seen breathing open-mouthed or with a gaping mouth because they are unable to draw air in through the inflamed and swollen tissues of the nostrils.

Many turtles that are suffering from herpes virus are also known to have closed and swollen eyes, constantly hiding and sleeping a lot. They also tend to be reluctant to move much. In these rare cases, herpesvirus also gets associated with acquiring neurological diseases, which includes circling and uncoordinated movements.

Unfortunately, sometimes there are no visible symptoms, and tortoises die without having their owners being aware that they are suffering from a sickness.

Additionally, tortoises never fully get well. Herpesvirus can go into remission, which means that the virus effectively hides inside the tortoise’s body for months or years before they cause a subsequent illness. This means that a tortoise that appears healthy on the outside may still become infected and able to spread its herpesvirus to other turtles.

How To Identify If Your Turtle Is At Risk Of Getting Herpesvirus

The risk factors that can make acquiring herpesvirus much easier involve the following:

  1. Young tortoises, as their immune system is still developing
  2. Stressed animals, as their immune system is compromised
  3. Enclosures with mixed species in residence, as this can result in a benign herpesvirus presence in one species causing fatality in another
  4. Immunosuppressed tortoises, especially those who have been exposed to numerous individual tortoises

Some stressors that are commonly known include:

  1. Exposure to internal parasites
  2. Exposure to different types of pathogens
  3. Dehydration
  4. Poor diet
  5. Lack of appropriate lighting
  6. Unsanitary practices
  7. Inappropriate humidity
  8. Inappropriate temperatures
  9. Crowding
  10. Removal from the wild
  11. Subsequent shipment
  12. Environmental changes

How Can Keepers Protect Tortoises From Acquiring Herpesvirus

The most important thing that tortoise keepers can start with is maintaining the strict quarantine of new tortoises that they acquire. Never ever allow an introduction of tortoises and other animals whose origins are unknown, especially if these animals have an unknown history. Because of the way trade animals can be exposed to multiple contact sessions with other kinds of tortoises, quarantine is really very important. Commercially bred tortoises tend to be exposed to numerous tortoises and subject to high levels of stress, which means that they are exceptionally high risk.

The advice for quarantine is usually between six to eighteen months. But unfortunately, this is not the usual way people deal with this. Some experts even suggest that the only way to do this is to limit permanent contact between tortoises. Living in direct contact on a permanent basis will equal mating, fighting, and feeding together and these are only possible routes for effective transmission.

It is also important for tortoise keepers to know the value of good hygiene measures. As a keeper, you can take part by washing your hands thoroughly in between handling different types of tortoises. If you feed them using utensils, never allow that you use the same tools per tortoise. You should also be careful and avoid spreading particles from one tortoise enclosure to a different one. When one of your tortoises get sick, it is helpful to wear disposable latex gloves when handling them. When cleaning utensils, you can also go for using diluted bleach as a safer and more effective disinfecting agent.

If it helps, you should also note that herpes has recently been diagnosed in tortoises that have been purchased from online dealers in the United Kingdom. Therefore, most tortoise hobbyists are suggesting refraining from purchasing imports from the UK because they are at a very high risk of becoming carriers of this problematic disease. If you ever get the chance to purchase these animals, make sure that you are familiar with the correct handling and treatment procedures.

Treatment Of Herpesvirus In Tortoises

Unfortunately, there is no known treatment for the herpes virus. The only possible treatment plans help reduce clinical disease and alleviate the symptoms. It is no longer possible to get rid of herpes virus once it has been found in an animal. But, as an owner, you can still help your tortoise live a good life by improving their husbandry. They might still be carriers but they can still spend the rest of their lives without showing signs of the problem.

Frequently Asked Questions About Herpesvirus In Tortoises

1. Can herpes virus affect humans?

No. The herpesvirus in tortoises has no evidence of being possibly transmissible to humans.

2. Can herpesvirus travel through the air?

No. Herpesvirus cannot travel directly. Rather than being infectious, the herpes virus is contagious. This means that without any form of physical contact, the virus cannot be transferred. It can be transmitted through fecal material, contaminated feeding equipment, and contaminated substrates can be some ways of spreading the disease.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the herpes virus can be a challenging obstacle in the life of your pet tortoise. As much as possible, it would be a good goal to make sure that your pet will never have to encounter this type of health concern. You can do this successfully by being extra careful in terms of general hygiene and husbandry for your pet.

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