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Backyard chicken owners in South Carolina urged to isolate flocks as cases of avian flu rise in wild waterfowl

Clemson University’s animal health experts are urging folks who keep backyard chickens and pet waterfowl to take extra care due to a spike in Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) cases in South Carolina. Recent outbreaks of the European strain of HPAI have hit backyard flocks hard in Horry and Orangeburg counties, with suspicions pointing towards wild birds as the likely carriers. Officials are stressing the need to keep domestic flocks isolated from wild waterfowl and the bodies of water they share.

Owners in the affected counties voluntarily reported significant bird losses. To prevent the virus from spreading and potentially impacting the state’s $1.5 billion poultry industry, surviving birds were depopulated. The Clemson Veterinary Diagnostic Center ran tests on the affected birds, and confirmation came from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) National Veterinary Services Laboratories.

Although experts reassure that this strain of HPAI poses a low risk to humans, it’s highly contagious among poultry and pet waterfowl. Recognizing the warning signs of HPAI is crucial, including sudden high death rates, reduced energy, decreased appetite, lower egg production, and physical symptoms like swelling and discoloration.

In December 2023, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources reported instances of avian flu-related wild duck die-offs in Clarendon, Colleton, and Williamsburg counties. Keeping a watchful eye and taking proactive measures are essential to protect both domestic and wild bird populations in the region.

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