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J Zoo Wildl Med. 2015 Dec;46(4):880-8. doi: 10.1638/2015-0128.1.



Aspergillosis is a common respiratory fungal disease in penguins managed under human care. Triazole antifungal drugs, including itraconazole, are most commonly used for treatment; however, itraconazole treatment failures from drug resistance are becoming more common, requiring newer treatment options. Voriconazole, a newer triazole, is being used more often. Until recently, no voriconazole pharmacokinetic studies had been performed in penguins, leading to empiric dosing based on other avian studies. This has led to increased anecdotal reporting of apparent voriconazole toxicity in penguins. This report describes 18 probable and 6 suspected cases of voriconazole toxicity in six penguin species from nine institutions: 12 African penguins (Spheniscus demersus), 5 Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti), 3 Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus), 2 gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua papua), 1 macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus), and 1 emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri). Observed clinical signs of toxicity included anorexia, lethargy, weakness, ataxia, paresis, apparent vision changes, seizure-like activity, and generalized seizures. Similar signs of toxicity have also been reported in humans, in whom voriconazole therapeutic plasma concentration for Aspergillus spp. infections is 2-6 μg/ml. Plasma voriconazole concentrations were measured in 18 samples from penguins showing clinical signs suggestive of voriconazole toxicity. The concentrations ranged from 8.12 to 64.17 μg/ml, with penguins having plasma concentrations above 30 μg/ml exhibiting moderate to severe neurologic signs, including ataxia, paresis, and seizures. These concentrations were well above those known to result in central nervous system toxicity, including encephalopathy, in humans. This case series highlights the importance of species-specific dosing of voriconazole in penguins and plasma therapeutic drug monitoring. Further investigation, including pharmacokinetic studies, is warranted. The authors recommend caution in determining voriconazole dosages for use in penguin species.


Adverse effects; encephalopathy; neurologic; penguin; toxicity; voriconazole

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