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Update on Avian Influenza in Captive Reared Mallards for Retriever Events, written by John Brunjes, Migratory Bird Program coordinator at State of  Kentucky Fish & Wildlife department.

I have received a ton of calls and questions about Avian Influenza after two separate cases of duck breeders/suppliers having a facility test positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). There is a lot of concern and confusion about what this means to you and your beloved dogs.

First HPAI is a disease of wild waterfowl that has made its way into domestic flocks. It originated in Asia and has been carried around the globe by migratory birds and lax biosecurity in poultry. It appeared in North America two winters ago and is probably here to stay. As a disease, it can wipe out domestic poultry (esp. high concentration situations like chicken and turkey farms). In wild ducks, the disease is mostly not a lethal disease. Most of our wild ducks regularly have other forms of avian influenza which gives them some immunity.

Reputable suppliers of ducks for our hunt tests and field trials participate in the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP). Part of the plan is to regularly test birds for disease. In both recent cases, it is these good suppliers doing the right thing testing their birds that has alerted us to the presence of HPAI in their facility. Once detected, the infected facility is depopulated and the suppliers immediately contacted anyone who had recently received ducks from that facility. Those birds may or may not be infected but for safety’s sake, we treat them as if they are. As a biologist, it is really good that the system worked here. We are testing and when found we let everyone know.

So what does this mean for you. First, HPAI can be contracted by dogs. There is at least one case of a retriever contracting the disease while hunting wild ducks. That said, it is extremely unlikely your dog will get it. For you, the most important thing is to know the possibility of exposure and be able to tell your vet that there is potential exposure. It can be treated if the vet knows. For you as a handler, risk is VERY low. Only one person in the US has contracted the disease and they were in a facility with thousands of sick birds. As with anytime you handle captive reared birds, proper cleaning of hands will go a long way to reducing any risk. Knowing you have been possibly exposed helps your doctor.

Last thing, leftover ducks from events that were alerted to the possibility of HPAI. A large number of dead ducks went home with folks from the Kentucky event. Even if they are in your freezer, the virus is still potentially alive in the frozen birds. This means that if you continue to utilize these birds, you are potentially exposing your dog to HPAI. If it is me, I’m getting rid of these birds. Getting rid means double bagging them in heavy duty black trash bags and sending them to the landfill. The greatest threat these birds pose is if they are thrown in the woods to allow “mother nature to take its course”. Your dog (or other wild mammals) could eat the carcass (much higher risk of contracting disease) or wild birds like hawks can eat the carcasses and it is very lethal for them. Put them in the trash.

Going forward, this is likely something we will always need to be aware of. It emphasizes the importance of getting ducks from reputable suppliers. The best, most cautious supplier can in spite of their best efforts still get the disease in their flock. It is how they handle the aftermath that matters. These folks did it right and the system worked.