North Dakota Urges Caution When Handling Wild Game

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Wildlife diseases are part of the natural world that rarely show up in humans, but it can happen and that's why the state Game and Fish Department recommends that hunters and anglers take precautions when handling and cooking wild game and fish.

Even if the chance of a human encountering an animal with a disease is remote, hunters should be aware of the possibilities, according to Greg Link, Game and Fish Department assistant wildlife division chief.

"Last year there was some concern about anthrax, this year it's tularemia," Link said. "People also wonder about West Nile virus, EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) in deer, mange in furbearers, and others. We want hunters to know the details about these diseases, but there's really no need for concern beyond the normal precautions hunters take."

For instance, last May the North Dakota State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab identified tularemia in a house cat that died near Beach, N.D., and a foal that died in northwestern South Dakota. According to lab director Dr. Neil Dyer, it was the first North Dakota case of tularemia diagnosed at the lab in at least 11 years. Later in the summer a cat from northwestern South Dakota was also diagnosed with tularemia.

Sometimes called "rabbit fever," tularemia is caused by a naturally occurring bacteria. It most commonly affects rabbits and hares, but can infect other animals and on rare occasions it can be transmitted to humans, either by bites from ticks or deer flies carrying the bacteria, or by handling animals that have the disease.

For hunters or others who spend time outside in that region, the risk of acquiring tularemia or other diseases is low. Hunters can further reduce their risk by following a few basic precautions, such as wearing gloves, washing hands with soap and water, and properly cooking wild game, according to Kirby Kruger, director of the division of disease control for the North Dakota State Health Department.

In fact, hunters throughout the state, regardless of the game they are pursuing, would do well to observe the following, additional precautions.

If you encounter a dead animal with no obvious cause of death, the best approach is to leave it alone, note the location, and contact a regional Game and Fish Department office or local game warden.

Hunters should not attempt to harvest animals that appear ill or are acting abnormally.

In addition to wearing gloves and washing hands, hunters should minimize animal fluid contact with skin. Do not rub your eyes, eat, drink, or smoke before you wash.

Cooking wild game meat thoroughly (155 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, 64 to 74 Celsius) kills disease organisms and parasites.

Be sure to sanitize knives, other cleaning tools, and food preparation surfaces.