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Other Names: Red Skin, Erysipelothrix Infection, St. Anthony's Fire

Erysipelas is the name of the disease caused by the bacterium, Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, which is found worldwide. Outbreaks occur sporadically in poultry, especially turkeys, and usually induce septicemia. E. rhusiopathiae is also responsible for swine eryipelas in pigs and erysipeloid in humans.


E. rhusiopathiae is spread horizontally, not vertically. Chickens are infected mainly through breaks in the mucous membranes or skin, from wounds or bites from vectors.
The red poultry mite (Dermanyssus gallinae), is also a potential vector of E. rhusiopathiae, and can act as reservoir hosts, allowing it to persist on the premises between flocks as a source of infection for the next flock of birds.

Marine animals, such as freshwater fish, molluscs, and crustaceans are a second important source. E. rhusiopathiae survives and grows on the exterior mucoid slime of fish, without causing disease in the fish themselves. Therefore, aquariums and/or any boxes used for transport of fish also play a vital role in the transmission of E. rhusiopathiae, and many human cases resulted from contact with these objects.


Gross lesions indicate septicemia. E. rhusiopathiae may be isolated from the liver, spleen or bone marrow for a definite diagnosis.

Clinical Signs

Purplish or reddish skin blotches
Pale comb


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • PCR
  • Bacterial culture
  • Histopathology
  • Necropsy

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Erysipelas - septicemia in a Turkeys Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae septicemia was diagnosed in a 15-week-old Broad Breasted White turkey. Eleven out of 150 turkeys developed a stiff, stilted gait with gradual loss of motion, neck extension and purple skin before they died one to three days after onset of signs. Gross exam of the one bird submitted revealed bluish discoloration of the skin and generalized congestion of the organs. An acute septicemia was identified based on histopathology findings of Gram-positive bacteria in white blood cells and vessels in the lung, liver, spleen, kidney, and heart. Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae was isolated from lung, liver, spleen, joint and nasal cavity swabs. Ref

  • Case 2: Erysipelas - septicemia in a Goslings  Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae septicemia caused increased mortality in 4 to 8-week-old goslings in a commercial flock. Necrosy revealed severe bilateral swelling of feet and hocks with hematomas visible through the skin, and thickened, edematous and hemorrhagic subcutis. The livers and spleens were enlarged and several were congested. E. rhusiopathiae was isolated in pure culture from joints, subcutaneous tissues and livers. A possible source may have been a sheep flock raised on the same ranch. Ref


Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
PenicillinOral or intravenous penicillin is the antibiotic of first choice. 1,000,000 U/gal in drinking water for 4 or 5 days to all birds in the flock. Treatment is usually required for 10-14 days.



  • Don't let chickens live in the same areas as pigs, since even healthy pigs can harbor this organism.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands after cleaning aquariums or after any contact with freshwater fish, molluscs, and crustaceans.

Scientific References

Risk Factors

  • History of recent injury
  • Cleaning freshwater aquariums and not washing your hands before handling your chickens.
  • Red poultry mites on premises
  • Raising chickens in areas that previously contained pigs
  • Roosters spurs were recently trimmed or dubbed
  • Breaks in the skin barrier due to insect bites, ulcers, or trauma.
  • Immune deficiency or stress