Waterfowl hunters warned to be aware of Avian Influenza

Published 10:05 am Thursday, December 21, 2023

With waterfowl hunting season open, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is asking hunters and the public in general to be aware of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) and report sightings of sick or dead birds.

HPAI is highly infectious and often deadly in wild birds and domestic poultry.  Infected birds spread the virus through their saliva, mucus and feces.  Symptoms of HPAI in infected birds include incoordination, droopy wings, lethargy, unwillingness to fly, swimming in circles and head tremors, according to the Department.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife monitors for HPAI by testing live and dead birds, including birds harvested by hunters. The department asks hunters and the public to help with the department’s HPAI surveillance efforts by reporting sick or dead waterfowl, raptors including hawks and eagles, vultures, or groups of dead birds (5 or more) by calling the agency at 1-800-858-1549, or reporting observations via the online HPAI Survey portal.

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Hunters should take these precautions when handling wild game this waterfowl season:

  • Do not harvest, handle or consume birds that are found dead or obviously sick.
  • When handling birds, wear disposable gloves, then wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after removing gloves or touching the birds.
  • Thoroughly clean any utensils, equipment and surfaces that touch birds.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke when handling or cleaning game birds.
  • All game should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F to kill viruses, bacteria and parasites.  Properly cooked game is safe to eat.
  • Do not feed dogs raw or undercooked meat from harvested waterfowl.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the strains of HPAI currently circulating in wild birds and domestic poultry do not present an immediate public health concern. To date, only one human case of HPAI has been detected in the United States.  That was last year in Colorado, so the risk of infection from birds to people continues to be low.

There is no evidence that consumption of adequately cooked meat from waterfowl or other game birds can cause avian influenza in people.

More information about HPAI and wild birds is available on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at fw.ky.gov