Wild duck in Hyde County tests positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza

Published 9:26 am Sunday, January 23, 2022

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Confirmation that a wild duck (Northern shoveler) harvested by a hunter in Hyde County tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has prompted biologists at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to remind hunters to follow best practices when handling waterfowl after harvest.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced the positive detection to stakeholders Tuesday, January 18, along with the announcement of a second wild duck confirmed to have HPAI in Colleton County, South Carolina since Jan. 14. All three findings are H5N1 HPAI. These are the first wild birds in the United States to have Eurasian H5 HPAI since 2016. The positive samples were collected by USDA as part of their ongoing surveillance program for early detection of HPAI in collaboration with state wildlife agencies. The positive sample from North Carolina was collected on Dec. 30, 2021.

“These positive detections in wild waterfowl are not unexpected, as they can be infected with HPAI and show no signs of illness,” stated a news release from NCWRC. “They can then carry the disease to new areas through fecal material or oral discharges when migrating.”

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This type of HPAI virus is considered a low risk to people according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, but it can be dangerous to other birds, including commercial and backyard flocks of poultry.

WRC officials recommend that hunters take these extra precautions offered by the USDA to protect themselves:

  • Do not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead.
  • Wear rubber gloves when handling birds, cleaning game or cleaning bird feeders.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game.
  • Dress your game birds in the field whenever possible. If you must dress your birds at home, clean them in an area separate from your poultry and pet birds.
  • Double bag the inedible parts of the bird and feathers. Tie the inner bag and include your rubber gloves and leave them in the outer bag before tying it closed.
  • Wash hands with soap and water immediately after handling game or cleaning bird feeders. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol wipes.
  • Wash all tools and work surfaces with soap and water. Then, disinfect them.
  • Avoid cross-contamination. Keep uncooked game in a separate container, away from cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
  • Cook game meat thoroughly; poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill disease organisms and parasites.

“If someone comes across a mortality event involving five or more waterbirds or waterfowl, or a mortality event of any size for raptors or avian scavengers, including crows, ravens and gulls, we want to know about them,” stated Joe Fuller, wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Commission. “We are also interested in morbidity events involving any number of those same bird species that are observed with clinical signs consistent with neurological impairment, like swimming in circles, head tilt and lack of coordination.”

The public is encouraged to direct wild bird reports as described by Fuller to the NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., or email HWI@ncwildlife.org or call USDA at 866-536-7593.

Sick or dying captive birds should be reported to your local veterinarian, the NCDACS Veterinary Division at 919-707-3250 or the N.C. Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System at 919-733-3986.

For more information on HPAI, visit the NCDACS website at http://www.ncagr.gov/avianflu/.