area with duck plague

Understanding Duck Plague: A Threat to Wild and Domestic Waterfowl

Duck plague is a viral disease that affects waterfowl, including wild and domestic ducks, geese, and swans. Also known as duck viral enteritis (DVE), the disease can cause significant morbidity and mortality in waterfowl populations. In this article, we will explore the cause, significance, species affected, distribution, transmission, clinical signs, diagnosis, treatment, management, and prevention of duck plague.


Duck plague is caused by an enveloped, double-stranded DNA virus known as Anatid herpesvirus 1. The virus is highly contagious and can survive in the environment for an extended period, making it a significant threat to waterfowl populations.


Duck plague is a significant concern for the poultry industry, especially in areas where wild and domestic waterfowl coexist. It’s one of several avian diseases that impact densely populated areas. The disease can cause significant economic losses due to mortality, reduced egg production, and reduced growth rates in domestic flocks. In addition, wild waterfowl are essential to many ecosystems and serve as important indicators of environmental health.

Species Affected

Duck plague affects waterfowl species worldwide, including domestic ducks, geese, and swans, as well as wild waterfowl such as mallards, pintails, teals, and geese.


Duck plague has been reported in many countries worldwide, including North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The disease is most prevalent in areas with high waterfowl populations, such as wetlands and waterways. Duck plague can spread quickly as a result of a duck’s ability to navigate both air, water and land.


Duck plague is highly contagious and can be transmitted through direct contact with infected waterfowl, contaminated water, or infected food sources. The virus can also be transmitted indirectly through contaminated equipment, such as cages, feeders, and waterers. Infected birds can shed the virus for several weeks, even after recovering from the disease, further contributing to its spread.

Clinical Signs

The clinical signs of duck plague vary depending on the severity of the disease and the affected bird’s age and immune status. Young birds are more susceptible to severe disease, while older birds may be asymptomatic or show only mild signs of infection.

The incubation period of duck plague can range from 3 to 14 days, with the virus replicating in the lymphoid tissue before spreading to other organs. The severity of the disease can range from acute to chronic.

Acute cases of duck plague can present with sudden death, while birds that survive the acute phase can show signs such as depression, anorexia, lethargy, and weakness. They may also exhibit respiratory signs such as coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge.

In the later stages of the disease, affected ducks may show signs of nervous system involvement such as head tremors, circling, incoordination, and paralysis. The ocular form of the disease can cause blindness, conjunctivitis, and ocular discharge.

Chronic cases of duck plague may present with less severe signs, such as decreased egg production and weight loss.

The clinical signs of duck plague can be similar to those of other avian diseases, such as avian influenza and Newcastle disease, making laboratory confirmation necessary for accurate diagnosis.


Diagnosis of duck plague is based on a combination of clinical signs, gross pathology, and laboratory testing. Post-mortem examination of affected birds can reveal characteristic lesions in the liver, spleen, and kidneys. Laboratory tests, including virus isolation, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and serology, can confirm the presence of the virus in affected birds.


There is no specific treatment for duck plague. Supportive care, such as hydration and nutrition, can help affected birds recover. Antibiotics may also be used to prevent secondary bacterial infections.


There is currently no effective treatment for duck plague, so prevention and control measures are critical for managing the disease. Prevention measures include biosecurity practices, such as keeping ducks in clean and disinfected environments and avoiding contact with wild waterfowl, which can serve as a reservoir for the virus.

Vaccination is another important tool for preventing duck plague outbreaks. Several commercial vaccines are available and have been shown to be effective in preventing the disease, but their use varies depending on the geographic location and the specific strains of the virus that are present.

In addition to vaccination, early detection and isolation of infected birds are important for controlling the spread of the disease. Infected birds should be culled and properly disposed of to prevent further transmission. Disinfection of infected premises and equipment is also important to reduce the risk of further outbreaks.

Finally, surveillance programs are critical for monitoring the prevalence and distribution of the virus. Regular testing of duck populations, both domestic and wild, can help to identify infected birds and prevent the spread of the disease.

Overall, effective management of duck plague requires a combination of prevention, vaccination, early detection, and control measures. By implementing these strategies, it is possible to minimize the impact of the disease on duck populations and prevent significant economic losses for the poultry industry.


Duck plague is a highly contagious viral disease that can cause significant morbidity and mortality in both domestic and wild waterfowl populations. The disease poses a significant threat to the poultry industry and can have significant ecological impacts. Early detection, strict biosecurity measures, and vaccination are essential for preventing and managing outbreaks of duck plague.


  1. Pande, V., & Shukla, S. K. (2016). Duck Plague: A Comprehensive Review. Veterinary World, 9(1), 26–29.
  2. OIE. (2021). Chapter 2.3.9. Duck Plague. In OIE terrestrial manual. World Organisation for Animal Health.
  3. Davison, S., & Converse, K. (2007). Wildlife Disease Management: Ducks, Geese, and Swans. National Wildlife Health Center, US Geological Survey.
  4. Hofacre, C. L., & Gilbert, M. (2020). Duck Plague. In Diseases of Poultry (14th ed., pp. 561–566). Wiley-Blackwell.

Further Reading

  1. Kim, M. C., Kwon, Y. K., Joh, S. J., Kwon, J. H., & Kim, J. H. (2011). Molecular and antigenic characterization of newly isolated Korean duck plague virus. Veterinary Microbiology, 148(2-4), 372–377.
  2. Liu, J., Ren, H., Luo, J., Yang, F., Jiang, L., & Chen, J. (2020). Duck plague virus induces apoptosis of duck embryo fibroblast cells via the mitochondrial pathway. Journal of Veterinary Science, 21(5), e62.
  3. Sinha, D. K., Shrivastava, M., Shukla, S. K., Tomar, S., & Nagarajan, S. (2017). Comparative analysis of early immune responses to duck plague virus in ducklings. Journal of Veterinary Science, 18(4), 383–390.