Avian Flu Should Not Be A Concern For Waterfowl Hunters

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Recent news of avian flu outbreaks have caused concern with waterfowl hunters, but MS Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks officials say the concern is likely unwarranted.

Avian Influenza (AI) is a naturally occurring disease found in poultry. AI is not a new disease but has been occurring in wild and domestic birds for years. There are various strains of AI that occur and change over time similar to the strains of human flu. There are basically two forms of AI, low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) and high pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), with various strain of each. The strain talked about most in the news recently is HPAI H5N1. "This strain has not been found in North America", states Scott Baker, Migratory Game Bird Program Leader. Baker goes on to say, "There have been only three HPAI outbreaks in the U.S. – in 1924, 1983 and 2004. No significant human illness occurred from these outbreaks."

HPAI H5N1 has only been found in Asian and European countries. In Asia there have been 61 deaths and 116 illnesses caused by this strain of AI. The majority of these cases were contracted by people who work in close proximity with domestic poultry, consume uncooked poultry, came into contact with the saliva, nasal discharge or feces of infected poultry. There is no record of the HPAI N5H1 strain being spread to humans from wild fowl, so hunters should not be concerned of being infected with AI while hunting ducks and geese.

Ron Seiss, Assistant Chief of Wildlife, encourages all hunters to practice the following precautions:

  • Do not handle or eat game that is visibly sick or unhealthy.
  • Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning game, wash hands, and thoroughly clean knives, equipment and surfaces that come in contact with game.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling harvested game.
  • All game should be cooked thoroughly to minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees F.

"Surveillance is underway among all lower 48 states, Alaska, and Canada for AI", says Baker. Sportsmen can go to the web sites of the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (www.SCWDS.org) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (www.usda.gov) for accurate and up to date information on AI.