In the visceral form, Marek's disease occurs as tumours in internal organs, including the ovaries, liver, spleen, kidney and heart. Sometimes the liver and spleen are swollen without distinct tumours being present. Birds may show signs of depression, paralysis, loss of appetite, loss of weight, anaemia (pale combs), dehydration (shrunken combs), and sometimes diarrhoea. Some birds die without any clinical signs being noticed. Most birds that develop Marek's disease usually die.
Veterinary examination is necessary to diagnose Marek's disease. The clinical signs, combined with post-mortem findings, will confirm the diagnosis in most cases, and, most importantly, rule-out other diseases. Enlargement of nerves such as the sciatic nerve are commonly seen at post-mortem. Changes in one or more internal organs may also be observed.
A different viral disease known as lymphoid leucosis also causes tumours in organs, but does not cause paralysis. It is usually seen in birds over 16 weeks of age, whereas Marek's disease is commonly seen in younger chickens.
Methods of Spread
Marek's disease virus occurs commonly wherever chickens are raised. The virus is highly infectious and once introduced into a flock it spreads rapidly to unvaccinated birds, so that most chickens in an unvaccinated flock become infected.