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Department of Fish & Game Reminds Hunters to Keep It Clean

Good hygiene in the field and at home is the best defense against diseases carried by wild birds.

As the upland game and waterfowl seasons approach, the Department of Fish & Game reminds hunters to keep it clean when out in the field.

“Wild animals are natural reservoirs for a variety of bacteria and viruses. Anyone coming into contact with wild birds needs to practice good hygiene in the field and at home,” said Dr. Pam Swift, a Fish & Game wildlife veterinarian. “Hunters can be exposed to bacteria and viruses in blinds, at harvest and collection, during field dressing and when cooking wild game.”

Some avian diseases that occur naturally in California include avian botulism, avian cholera, mycoplasmosis, salmonellosis and trichomoniasis. Of heightened concern during the past several years has been the risk of exposure to Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza (HPAI H5N1).

HPAI H5N1 is primarily a bird disease that is particular to domestic poultry, but also can infect most other birds both domestic and wild, and to a lesser extent, mammals. It is one of many types of avian influenza viruses. The HPAI H5N1 virus caused high mortality in poultry and wild birds in 55 countries around the world, but has not been detected in North America.

Long-term surveillance of more than 30 years by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in cooperation with Fish & Game has not established the presence of any HPAI virus in North American wild birds. Surveillance for avian influenza viruses has become a standard procedure in addition to the testing for a variety of other avian diseases.

While there is no known risk of being exposed to the HPAI H5N1 in the United States, anyone coming into contact with birds should know that there are other diseases and bacteria they may encounter.

“Hunters are not the only people who are exposed to wild birds,” said Dan Yparraguirre, a Fish & Game wildlife biologist. “Backyard bird feeders, wildlife rehabilitators, game-bird breeders, licensed game bird clubs, falconers, restricted species permit holders, scientific collectors, zookeepers and field biologists are examples of people who can have contact with wild birds.”

Good hygiene is the best defense against exposure to any number of diseases that wild birds carry. To prevent exposure to bacteria and viruses, people should:

» Not handle birds that are obviously sick.

» Keep game birds cool, clean and dry.

» Place harvested birds in a washable container for transport (ice chest, etc., that can be sanitized).

» Wash hands before eating, smoking or drinking (use hand sanitizer in duck blinds).

» Use rubber gloves when cleaning game, and wash hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes after dressing birds.

» Clean all tools and surfaces immediately afterward; use hot soapy water, then disinfect with a 10 percent chlorine bleach solution.

» Clean clothes, boots, back of truck, bird prep station well.

» Properly dispose of feathers/innards.

» Cook game meat thoroughly (155 to 165°F).

Some avian diseases such as avian cholera and avian botulism do not pose a threat to humans but can cause large bird die-offs. These diseases occur in a cyclic manner depending on numerous environmental factors such as ambient temperature, water availability and bird concentrations. When a die-off occurs, Fish & Game and the Fish & Wildlife Service respond quickly.

“We are ready to rapidly investigate and collect samples for necropsy and disease testing should a die-off occur in California,” Yparraguirre said. “With rapid response, we can ensure the public safety and maybe slow the effect of the die-off.”

To help with the statewide surveillance and response to wild bird die-offs, the public is encouraged to report dead wild birds to 877.968.2473 or at the California West Nile virus Web site by clicking here.

In the past 30 years in California, documented bird losses because of diseases and pollution ranged from a low of 10,500 in 1977-78 to a high of 169,300 in 1991-92. The majority of the bird losses in 1991-92 consisted of 150,000 eared grebes that died because of avian cholera at the Salton Sea. Average annual loss of migratory birds to disease in California is about 25,000 birds. These figures are for birds picked up and disposed of, and the actual losses are greater.

In 2005, the last full year of available data from the National Wildlife Health Center, of the nearly 12,000 birds picked up in California, most diagnosed causes of mortality were petroleum spills (5,000), salmonellosis (2,400), botulism (1,800) and starvation (1,500).

Click here for more information on avian influenza and clean and safe practices for all varieties of contact with wild birds.

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