Anatipestifer Infection: What You Need to Know
Reduce the chances of your flock contracting the deadly bacterial duck disease anatipestifer with simple biosecurity measures.
As a duck or waterfowl owner, you may go years or even decades and never see any major outbreak of disease in your flocks. Waterfowl are amazingly resilient and hardy, so it’s sometimes easy to forget that there’re still a few diseases that can devastate a flock within a short amount of time. An anatipestifer infection — also commonly known as New Duck Disease, New Duck Syndrome, or Duck Septicemia — is one such malady. While anatipestifer infections aren’t something to panic over, it’s something to be aware of and is a good reason to maintain a clean living area for your waterfowl. We’ve heard much about the bird flu over the past few years, but anatipestifer infections can also result in considerable economic losses for waterfowl farmers throughout the world.
Anatipestifer infections are caused by the Riemerella anatipestifer bacteria. Currently, there are at least 21 known strains, or serotypes, of this bacterium, all of which have the ability to cause illness in waterfowl. (Older information on the disease may list the causative bacteria as Pasteurella anatipestifer). While two or three strains of R. anatipestifer are commonly found in most outbreaks, it’s common for many more subtypes to be present in one area. The bacteria can be carried by wild waterfowl and exist in all major flyways of the world. It’s highly contagious and can be easily transmitted to domestic waterfowl if wild waterfowl share the same pond or pasture areas. It can also be carried by mosquitos.
Anatipestifer infections are highly infectious and can occur in ducks, geese, turkeys, and other barnyard fowl. Most infectious outbreaks occur in flocks of young ducklings approximately 1 to 7 weeks old. In waterfowl, the transmission route is usually respiratory. However, the bacteria can also be easily transmitted through cuts, scratches, or other sores on the duck’s webbed feet. In turkeys and other gallinaceous birds, transmission is most common via the respiratory route, commonly taking hold as a secondary infection when another respiratory infection is present.
None of the strains of R. Anatipestifer are known to cause disease in humans. Even so, extreme care should be taken when handling birds, water, feces, or any bedding possibly infected with the bacteria. A human caregiver can, unfortunately, become an effective transmission agent for the disease.
Signs and Symptoms of an Anatipestifer Infection
Disease onset, especially in ducklings, is characterized by a mild cough, eye and nose discharge, greenish-white diarrhea, and a lack of coordination. Bacterial infection of the central nervous system and meninges (tissue covering the brain and spinal cord) can develop just a few days later. Incubation time for the disease is 2 to 5 days. Many birds begin to have head tremors, and some may be found on their backs, paddling with their feet in the air. Internally, lesions can develop in the respiratory tract and air sacs of the lungs; in the peritoneum (tissue lining the abdominal cavity and visceral organs); in the pericardium (membranous sac surrounding the heart); and in the oviducts of mature female birds. Inflammation of the liver and spleen is common. Once the anatipestifer bacteria takes hold in the bird’s system, it enters the bloodstream, causing rapid blood poisoning. While any of the physical effects of the infection can be fatal, dehydration is the most common cause of death.
The mortality rate can approach 75% in infected ducks and 60% in infected turkeys. Surviving birds often have stunted growth and reduced vitality. If the ducks are being raised commercially for meat, the surviving birds may be condemned at time of slaughter due to internal lesions and scarring inside the carcass.
Treating Your Flock
Any ducklings, goslings, or other fowl that show symptoms should be immediately removed from the flock and isolated. If you find your ducks losing their balance or with discharge from their eyes or noses, consider the possibility that an anatipestifer infection could be present, and take safeguards to keep it from spreading. Immediately remove the potentially infected litter, water, and feed, and follow with application(s) of a disinfecting solution.
The most effective disinfectants for these strains of bacteria include chlorine-releasing agents, Iodopbars, and quaternary ammonium compounds. Prior to applying these antimicrobials, the birds should be removed and placed in another area. Because anatipestifer infections are highly contagious, consider getting a lab test from a veterinarian, the local county agricultural extension office, or a university agriculture department. Unfortunately, with budget cuts in government and university programs, these services may not be available in all areas, and lab tests from private veterinary services can be prohibitive for a small flock owner.
There are vaccines for both young and mature birds (including breeder fowl), which will protect against the most common strains of Riemerella anatipestifer. If you’re raising large numbers of birds in close quarters, consider spending a little extra money on vaccinations.
If your flock is hit with an outbreak, you can administer drugs such as Sulfaquinoxaline or a combination of penicillin and streptomycin — both available from veterinarians — via the drinking water. However, once the disease presents itself, treatment can have varying levels of success. Clean and disinfect living areas to eradicate bacteria from the property.
One of the biggest problems faced when trying to control this highly infectious disease is the fact that most of the strains of Riemerella anatipestifer are not cross-reactive. This means that a vaccine or drug that works on one strain may not work on another. There’re also drug-resistant strains that are occurring in outbreaks. Once the bacteria and disease occur in an area, they become endemic, and recurring outbreaks can become common if not treated and eradicated.
Simple Yet Effective Precautions
Bacteria such as Riemerella anatipestifer are always a possibility any time waterfowl or other poultry are being raised. Some of the best ways to keep such outbreaks of disease away from your flocks include maintaining clean facilities, implementing common-sense biosecurity practices, changing contaminated litter, water, and feed, and avoiding overcrowding. Having a way to maintain fresh drinking and swimming water, keeping coops and housing dry and well-ventilated, and keeping bedding as clean and dry as possible can help avoid bacterial buildups that can infect a flock. These precautions will go a long way to help reduce the chances of this disease ever taking hold in your flocks.
Originally published in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.