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Poultry Enteritis and Mortality Syndrome

Faculty members at NC State College of Veterinary Medicine led efforts to understand and control poult enteritis mortality syndrome (PEMS) after it was first recognized in 1991. The faculty and staff of the CVM and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences always work with poultry producers, governments, and other institutions to offer a united front against emerging and reemerging diseases.

Our role is in the education of veterinarians, continuing education of animal-related professions, and research into the causes and prevention of diseases. We are also dedicated to inform animal and poultry owners and producers about health and welfare issues of interest to them. We particularly understand and value the contributions that poultry make to the health of people and the economic well-being of North Carolina and the nation.

Understanding and Controlling PEMS 

Collaborative efforts helped establish the following information about PEMS:

  • The occurrence of turkey coronaviruses in some, but not all, outbreaks.
  • The infectious nature of the disease.
  • Proof that PEMS is a specific disease and not just a severe form of poult enteritis complex.
  • The recognition of at least two clinical types of the disease; a severe form associated with high mortality followed by stunting (“spiking mortality”) and another, less severe form, characterized by lower mortality followed by stunting.
  • The value of using sentinel poults as a tool for disease investigations.
  • The absence of public health or food safety problems associated with PEMS.
  • The importance of biosecurity and good management practices in controlling the disease.

History of the Research 

PEMS devastated the North Carolina poultry industry in the early 1990s. In 1995 a PEMS task force was convened to coordinate PEMS research. The State of North Carolina and several commercial turkey companies contributed funds. The task force reviewed research proposals and provided funds to support research at several universities.

In 2001 the NC State CVM dean, Dr. Oscar Fletcher, invited several PEMS researchers and other interested people to attend a meeting to discuss the results of PEMS research and to determine strategies for future research. The result was a report containing a summary of the research results and future research needs, written reports provided by the investigators who were funded by the PEMS task force, and the resulting abstracts and publications.

Poult Enteritis and Mortality Syndrome Final Report

PEMS is not a single disease entity but a syndrome of clinical signs induced by one of several combinations of enteric viruses and bacteria.

turkeys in field