Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has resulted in catastrophic economic losses globally in poultry. This case report describes the diagnostic detection and pathology of HPAI H5N1 in 5-day-old commercial ducklings, which is an atypical age for detection of natural infection of HPAI in poultry. The pathology observed at 5 days of age was also compared to lesions observed in ducklings from the same flock evaluated at 10 days of age before depopulation. The California Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) Laboratory, Tulare, received ten 5-day-old Pekin duckling (Anas platyrhynchos domesticus) carcasses for diagnostic evaluation due to mortality that started increasing at 3 days of age. The most common gross findings included bilateral pulmonary edema with congestion and enlarged, mottled livers and spleens. Microscopically, cerebral neuronophagia, pancreatic necrosis, and interstitial pneumonia with pulmonary edema were observed in the 5-day-old ducklings. Oropharyngeal and cloacal swabs were positive for avian influenza virus (AIV) by real-time reverse transcriptase PCR. The AIV was typed as HPAI, EA/AM 2.3.4.4b H5N1 goose/Guangdong clade lineage by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory. Ducks at the affected premises were depopulated 4 days after the 5-day-old ducklings were submitted to the CAHFS lab, at which time additional tissue samples were collected for comparison to 10-day-old ducklings on the same premises. Differences in microscopic lesions and AIV tissue distribution were observed between the 5-day and 10-day tissues collected. Notably, microscopic lesions were more severe in the brain and pancreas at 10 days of age. Findings in 10-day-old ducklings included cerebral lymphoplasmacytic perivascular cuffing, gliosis, neuronal degeneration, and pancreatic necrosis. AIV antigen distribution and intensity was greatest in the cerebral tissue of the brains at 10 days and in the lungs at 5 days of age. To the authors’ knowledge, published studies are limited on AIV natural infection in domestic ducks less than 9 days of age.

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