The Truth About Adenovirus in Bearded Dragons

Springtime is here! Breeding season is among us and with that comes a lot of parroting and misinformation about ADV in Bearded Dragons. ADV is no longer the death sentence it was once believed to be. Tracy Saltmarsh wrote an amazing article in regards to the actual research done on this topic and we would love to share it with you.
ADV is a virus that the animals naturally carry (see bullet point 1 at the end of this post.) the animals actively shed the virus when they are sick or stressed. 15 or so years ago a paper was published by Dr. Elliot Jacobson, who studies infectious diseases and has a lab at the University of Florida. The paper was regarding finding ADV in deceased specimen during necropsy. IN NO WAY was it meant to imply correlation as causation, but a few individuals decided to cherry pick certain parts of it and run with it. They used it to launch a smear campaign on breeders, scare people into testing their animals (which they made commissions on), and start a website called PATS pogona testing. Hundreds of healthy robust animals were put down needlessly, no questions asked, because of the fear mongering. Breeders even received death threats!!! It got so bad that Dr. Jacobson took pity and wrote a supplemental report essentially expanding on the unknown factors in his original paper. Every now and then, the fear mongering starts up again. Usually it’s from miss info given by a vet who simply doesn't know any better or doesn’t work extensively with reptiles. Sometimes it comes from people that disagree with breeding completely and would rather your rights to keep pets be stripped away, particularly regarding your right to keep captive exotics. People then jump online searching for more information because they are scared. Worried their “Spike” has an incurable disease that is silently killing him. What they typically find is 15 year old information that originally came from the PATS site that is incorrect, was originated to push an agenda, and has been parroted over and over by new comers that have copy/pasted to their site honestly, not knowing any better.
Ask yourself this: if ADV was everything it was made out to be, why do we still have a large population of captive pogona? Why haven’t they died out from ADV over the last 15+ years since the original witch hunt started? Because it is not what it was made out to be. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. More animals are produced today than there ever were 15 years ago.
Why hasn't there been a test developed to find a confirmed negative animal? I personally ask myself this all the time. I am not a virologist so I don’t know 🤷.
THERE ARE NO TESTS TO FIND A TRULY NEGATIVE ANIMAL. A negative result does not mean the animal is negative. They have to be actively shedding the virus for it to show up on a PCR test. You could test an animal 10 times and have it come back negative if they aren't shedding the virus, and the 11th time it could come back positive. Showcasing negative results after one test (or even after several tests) in a pair of animals means nothing. Blaming other breeders for their animals "having adv" is negligent. Do you know what every single necropsied animal that tested positive for adv also had? A primary illness unrelated to ADV as the cause of death.
"Star gazing" has been associated with ADV for many years. There are multiple things that can cause this neurological issue, all of which are not ADV. The "symptoms" associated with ADV are not caused by ADV. Failure to thrive is also automatically attributed to ADV when it shouldn't be. When a vet doesn’t know why the animal is sick? it’s frequently stated as ADV, even with no test.
Unfortunately with inbreeding depression becoming more of an issue, further compounded by poor breeding ethics, we are seeing more and more sick animals with weakened immune systems and deformity. This will continue to get worse if more people don't start paying attention! Some people will scapegoat ADV as the cause of their animals not thriving or pairings throwing defects instead of really looking at what they are doing, how it can impact what they produce, and trying to fix it.
Before you "pay extra for a breeder’s animals that test ADV negative," really think about it objectively. 15 years ago PATS couldn't find a single breeder with truly ADV negative animals. Besides there not being a test to do this, the animals tested would test negative multiple times then pop positive. It was a bust.
So please, just pump the brakes and really look at what's going on.
-Tracy Saltmarsh
Phantom Dragons