A wild duck harvested by a hunter in Colleton County, South Carolina, is the first wild bird since 2016 to be found infected in the United States with the Eurasian H5 type of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), officials have announced.
The bird, an American wigeon, was tested by the Clemson University Veterinary Diagnostic Center in Columbia and the diagnosis was confirmed by The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS).
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.
“We’re asking that anyone involved with poultry or egg production, from large farms all the way down to backyard flocks, review their biosecurity practices to assure the health of their birds,” said State Veterinarian Michael J. Neault, who directs Clemson Livestock Poultry Health, which includes the Veterinary Diagnostic Center.
“So far we have no indication that HPAI has jumped from wild migratory birds to poultry and we’d very much like to keep it that way,” Neault said.
USDA has alerted the World Organization of Animal Health, known as OIE, of the discovery as required under international trade protocols.
So far in 2022, Europe has been kept busy with H5 cases of their own, reporting to the OIE scattered infections across the continent from Portugal to Bulgaria. In December, Canada reported two separate cases in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
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.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) considers the risk of HPAI H5 infections to the public to be low. No human infections from Eurasian H5 viruses have occurred in the United States.
Nonetheless, 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.
- 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.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is working with Clemson University, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and federal partners about this recent detection of Eurasian H5.
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.
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