Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Detected in Delaware Wild Birds


Cases of Eurasian H5 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) were detected in wild birds in Delaware in recent days, as the bird flu continues to spread in the United States. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the Eurasian H5 strain of HPAI in eight wild ducks and a Canada goose in Kent County and one red-shouldered hawk in New Castle County. APHIS is working with federal and state partners, including the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) on additional avian influenza surveillance and testing.

All the ducks found to have HPAI – including five northern shovelers, one American wigeon, one black duck and a gadwall – were harvested by hunters and submitted to APHIS for sampling. The Canada goose was a mortality submitted for testing, while the red-shouldered hawk was tested for HPAI after it had been taken to Tri-State Bird Rescue for rehabilitation. These findings were not unexpected, as wild birds can be infected with HPAI but show no signs of illness. Eight other states in the Atlantic Flyway have found HPAI this year in wild birds, with it believed to be widespread in migratory waterfowl. Wild free-flying ducks, geese and shorebirds can carry the disease to new areas when migrating, as can raptors such as hawks and owls. 

Avian influenza (AI), commonly known as “bird flu,” is a respiratory disease of birds caused by an influenza Type A virus. These viruses can infect poultry (chickens, ducks, quail, pheasants, guinea fowl and turkeys) and some wild bird species (such as ducks, geese, swans, shorebirds, hawks and owls), but are known to impact poultry and wild birds in different ways. While wild birds often can carry the AI viruses without becoming sick, AI in poultry is contagious and can make some domesticated birds very sick and even cause death. Avian influenza is not associated with the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to the general public from HPAI H5 infections to be low. No human infections with Eurasian H5 viruses have occurred in the United States. As a reminder, the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165°F will kill bacteria and viruses, including HPAI.

Precautions for Waterfowl Hunters

With the snow goose conservation order in effect through April 8, Delaware waterfowl hunters can reduce the risk of exposing poultry or pet birds to AI by taking basic safety precautions to keep the disease from spreading.

Protect Domestic Birds

  • Dress game birds in the field whenever possible.
  • If you must dress game birds at home, do so in an area inaccessible to poultry and pet birds. Ideally, there should be a solid barrier between the areas where game is cleaned and where domestic birds are housed.
  • Keep a separate pair of shoes to wear only in your game-cleaning area. If this is not possible, wear rubber boots or shoes and clean/disinfect them before entering or leaving the area.
  • Use dedicated utensils for cleaning game, whether in the field or at home. Do not use these tools around poultry or domestic fowl.
  • Always wear rubber gloves when cleaning game.
  • Double bag the carcass remains and feathers. Tie the inner bag and be sure to take off your disposable rubber gloves and leave them in the outer bag before tying it closed.
  • Place the bag in a trash can that poultry and domestic fowl cannot access. The trash can should also be secured against any access by children, pets or other animals.
  • Wash hands with soap and water immediately after handling game.
  • Scrub all tools and work surfaces with soap and water.

Protect Yourself

  • Do not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game.
  • Wear rubber gloves while cleaning game or cleaning bird feeders.
  • Wash hands with soap and water immediately after handling game or cleaning bird feeders.
  • Wash all tools and work surfaces with soap and water.
  • Avoid food 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 °F to kill disease organisms and parasites.

Precautions for Poultry Owners and Producers

Poultry owners or those working within the poultry industry should refer to guidance issued by the Delaware Department of Agriculture regarding increased biosecurity protocols. For additional information, visit de.gov/poultry. Any sickness or unusual deaths in backyard flocks and commercial poultry, should be reported to the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s Poultry and Animal Health Section at 302-698-4500, or after hours by calling 302-233-1480 for a disease emergency involving poultry.

To report groups of dead or sick waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, hawks or owls, contact the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Wildlife Section Wildlife Disease Program at 302-735-3600.