Hunters participating in deer and fall bird season should be aware of the risk of HPAI in wildlife and use measures to prevent transmission to domestic poultry flocks.
Positive cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) are being reported in domestic poultry flocks across North Dakota. The risk of transmission from wild birds to domestic birds has increased with a slow in migration due to the mild temperatures.
Wild birds and some mammals are testing positive for HPAI. Hunters who have contact with domestic poultry should be aware of what steps to take if they see sick or deceased wildlife, advise North Dakota State University Extension specialists.
“If you hunt game or wild birds and own domestic poultry, do not wear hunting clothes or footwear while you are in with your birds,” says Miranda Meehan, NDSU Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist. “Infected birds shed bird flu viruses in their saliva, mucous and feces.”
“The primary carriers of avian influenza A are waterfowl, gulls, terns and shorebirds,” says Dr. Gerald Stokka, NDSU Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist. “H5N1 HPAI has been detected in wild birds throughout all U.S. migratory flyways. Wild birds can be infected without showing symptoms of the infection. While waterfowl are the primary carriers, positive cases are being documented in predatory birds and mammals.”
All poultry owners, no matter the size, should practice good biosecurity to protect their flock from HPAI.
“The best defense against HPAI is having a biosecurity plan in place,” says Mary Keena, NDSU Extension livestock environmental management specialist. “It is your job as a flock owner to create a line of separation between your clean flock and the potentially unclean issues that wildlife or visitors may bring.”
Biosecurity practices that can reduce the risk to domestic birds include:
- Do not haul disease home. If you’ve been out walking in fields or wetlands while hunting, be sure to change clothing and footwear before crossing the clean/dirty line to care for your flock.
- Do not walk or drive trucks, tractors or equipment through areas where waterfowl or other wildlife feces may be. If you cannot avoid this, clean your shoes, vehicles and equipment thoroughly to prevent transferring disease.
- Field dress game birds when possible to reduce the potential for disease transfer.
- Dogs are not at high risk to contract the virus. However, there have been documented cases of dogs transmitting HPAI to domestic flocks. If your dog has interacted with wildlife, take measures to keep them away from poultry.
- If visitors will be interacting with your birds, make sure you know where they have been, require them to wash their hands, and ensure their clothes and footwear are clean and disinfected.
- Reduce the attractiveness for wild birds to stop at your place by cleaning up litter and spilled feed around poultry housing areas.
- If you have free range guinea fowl and waterfowl, consider bringing them into coops or flight pens under nets to prevent interaction of domesticated poultry with wild birds and their droppings.
- Non-lethal methods to deter wildlife are available on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Damage webpage: https://bit.ly/deter-wild-birds.
Avian influenza surveillance and testing in wild birds is being done by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Report sick and dead wildlife at https://bit.ly/mortality-report. Direct wild bird avian influenza questions to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department at 701-204-2161.
Avian influenza is a zoonotic disease, meaning there is a chance it can be transferred to humans.
“While this risk is low, hunters of wild birds are more likely to have increased exposure to the virus, which may increase risk of infection,” says Mary Keena, NDSU Extension livestock environmental management specialist.
“According to the CDC, if you must handle wild birds or sick or dead poultry, minimize direct contact by wearing gloves and washing your hands with soap and water after touching birds,” says Dr. Stokka. “If available, wear respiratory protection such as a medical facemask. After handling wild birds, discard the gloves and facemask, change your clothing, disinfect footwear, and then wash your hands with soap and water.”
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department suggests the following practices to reduce risk of infection:
- Do not handle game that is found dead or appears to be sick.
- Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game, and avoid contamination of your eyes, mouth, nose, or any open cuts or sores with blood or other fluids from game that you are cleaning.
- Wash hands, cleaning utensils and other surfaces with soap and hot water immediately after cleaning game.
“There is no evidence that anyone has contracted the virus from eating a fully cooked bird, either domestic or wild,” says Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist. “It is always a safe practice to fully cook wild game to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of whether there is a threat of HPAI.”
More information about wild birds is available from:
- NDSU Extension: Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza – ag/hpai
- NDSU Extension: Care and Handling of Game Birds – ag/gamebirds
- North Dakota Game and Fish – https://bit.ly/nd-avian-influenza
- USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – https://bit.ly/usda-hpa