Due to a number of confirmed cases of avian influenza in domestic and wild birds this year, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is encouraging waterfowl hunters to keep an eye on and report any signs of the disease they may find. The risk of humans contracting the disease remains low, but assistance from hunters will help to further minimize that risk.
“Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has been confirmed in domestic poultry flocks this year, as well as multiple wild birds in Arkansas and several tests are pending,” Dr. Jenn Ballard, state wildlife veterinarian for the AGFC, said. “It also has been confirmed throughout the Mississippi Flyway, so it was just a matter of time before we found it here.”
According to Ballard, various low pathogenicity strains of influenza always circulate in wild bird populations, but the particular strain known as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza is much more contagious and has already resulted in billions of dollars worth of damage to domestic poultry across the world.
“HPAI was found in domestic birds in North America before, forcing producers to quarantine and eliminate flocks to prevent further spread, but it always fizzled out in wild birds,” Dr. Ballard said. “It now seems to have adapted to wild birds to a point that it is persisting. Dozens of species have been confirmed with thousands of birds dying.”
The chance of humans contracting the disease is low, and most human cases have resulted from working conditions where the infected individual was in close contact with infected poultry. As a general precaution, the AGFC recommends that hunters use good hygiene practices when handling, cleaning and preparing harvested waterfowl, including the following guidelines:
- Harvest only waterfowl that act and look healthy. Do not handle or eat sick animals.
- Wear disposable gloves when handling and cleaning game and field dress outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water afterward.
- Dispose of unwanted parts in a manner that prevents scavenging by domestic animals and wildlife.
- Thoroughly cook all game to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit before eating it.
- Do not feed pets or domestic animals uncooked portions of waterfowl.
More concerning than the risk of humans contracting the disease is its potential for spillover to domestic poultry. Agricultural officials urge poultry producers to implement biosecurity measures around their flocks, especially during periods of waterfowl migration, while hunters who have contact with poultry should use extra caution. Avoid contact between poultry and wild birds or their parts, and change or clean clothing, shoes and other equipment between handling waterfowl and poultry.
Hunters and wildlife watchers who observe concentrations of sick or dead birds should contact the AGFC’s wildlife health program with any questions, information about the species, number of birds affected and location at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on avian influenza information can be found at the AGFC, Ducks Unlimited, and USDA APHIS’s websites.