SC wood duck die-offs linked to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza
December 23, 2023
Within the last two weeks, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have received numerous calls concerning an apparent die-off of wood ducks in waterfowl impoundments and river swamps in Clarendon, Colleton and Williamsburg counties.
Preliminary testing indicates two of these die-off events can be attributed to highly pathogenic Eurasian H5 avian influenza (HPAI). Results are currently pending from additional die-off locations.
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza was first detected in the United States in January 2022 in two wild ducks harvested by a hunter in Colleton County, South Carolina, and one wild duck in Hyde County, North Carolina. Prior to these findings, HPAI had not been detected in a wild bird in the United States since 2016. Following the detection of HPAI in early 2022, portions of the United States experienced large die-off events of snow geese and eiders.
"Since 2022, the greatest impact on wild birds in South Carolina has been seen in black vultures and bald eagles," said Molly Kneece, SCDNR state waterfowl biologist. "Up to this point, we had not experienced any noticeable die-offs of waterfowl species in South Carolina. These recently reported wood duck die-offs seem to be localized but do have potential to spread into other counties and to other waterfowl species given the social and migratory behaviors of wood ducks."
Hunters should be aware that HPAI is present in the environment, and it is also showing up in an APHIS sampling effort of hunter harvested birds. However, it is still safe to pursue and consume wild fowl this season. This type of HPAI virus is considered a low risk to people but it can be a danger to the poultry industry, which is an important part of South Carolina’s agricultural economy.
USDA Veterinary and Wildlife Services recommends hunters and others to take precautions to protect themselves and the domestic birds they may encounter from the virus:
- Do not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead without latex gloves.
- Dress your game birds in the field whenever possible. If you must dress birds at home, clean them in an area in which your poultry and pet birds have no access.
- Keep a separate pair of shoes to wear only in your game cleaning area. If this is not possible, wear rubber footwear and clean/disinfect your shoes before entering or leaving the area.
- Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game.
- Always wear rubber gloves while cleaning game or cleaning bird feeders.
- Wash hands with soap and water immediately after handling game or cleaning bird feeders. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol wipes.
- Use dedicated tools for cleaning game, whether in the field or at home. Do not use those tools around your poultry or pet birds.
- Wash all tools and work surfaces with soap and water and 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.
- Double bag the offal and feathers. Tie the inner bag; be sure to take off your rubber gloves and leave them in the outer bag before tying it closed.
- Place the bag in a trash can that poultry and pet birds cannot access. This trash can should also be secure against access by children, pets or other animals.
Julie Helm, a veterinarian and poultry specialist with Clemson Livestock Poultry Health, advises South Carolinians to protect small poultry flocks with two simple statements: "Keep it AWAY and Keep it CLEAN."
Keep it AWAY: Keep your poultry and pets away from wild ducks and geese and their environment — ponds, lakes and swampy areas. Take care not to track the wild waterfowl virus back to your flock if you are hunting or hiking in the wild waterfowl environment. Buy new birds from a reputable source. Keep new birds or returning show birds separated from your established home flocks for 30 days. Keep pests (rodents, raccoons, opossums, rabbits) out of bird pens. Keep visitors out of your bird areas; what may they be carrying on their feet, clothing or vehicles.
Keep it CLEAN: Clean cages and coops. Clean any equipment first before it comes onto your property. Wear designated farm shoes and clothing to care for your birds. Wash your hands before and after working with your birds. Change birds’ food and water daily. Wash your vehicles and trailers after visiting other poultry facilities and before you come home — go through a car wash.
DHEC strongly urges anyone who handles birds — including hunters and poultry farmers — to follow the recommended precautions for protecting themselves from possible exposure and to talk with a doctor if they have any health concerns regarding a possible exposure.
South Carolina hunters and landowners can help SCNDR and APHIS monitor this potential HPAI event by reporting sightings of dead wood ducks or other waterfowl to SCDNR (800-922-5431 or email@example.com, Subject Line: HPAI). Of notable interest will be the location of the die-off, number of individuals affected, species, and habitat type. HPAI testing will be done on a case-by-case basis, but it will be very helpful to know where any waterfowl die-offs are occurring and to what extent.
After reporting any waterfowl die-off events to SCDNR, landowners and habitat managers can gather any dead waterfowl they find and bury those carcasses on site. This important step can help reduce the spread of HPAI to scavenging mammals and birds of prey. All equipment, tools, clothing, and boots should be disinfected with a solution of 1/3 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water.
For more information on HPAI or to monitor confirmed detections in wild birds and commercial or backyard flocks follow: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/avian-influenza/2022-hpai
Contact: SCDNR, Greg Lucas, LucasG@dnr.sc.gov, (864) 380-5201