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Bird hunters should be aware of avian flu

HELENA – Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus was first detected in wild birds and domestic poultry in Montana in spring 2022. While HPAI cases in wild birds did decline over the summer, there are detections of new cases in parts of the U.S., including Montana again this fall. HPAI viruses are extremely infectious and fatal to poultry and some species of wild birds.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is continuing to monitor the situation by testing wild birds that display symptoms consistent with HPAI infection. Some waterfowl species carry and transmit the virus without developing symptoms. Other wild bird species are highly susceptible and are likely to die from infection. In Montana, various duck species are most likely to carry the virus without symptoms, while geese and raptors have been the most common wild birds to die from the virus. The virus is also highly fatal to domestic poultry, including chickens, ducks and turkeys.

Human infections with bird flu viruses are rare but can occur, usually after close contact with infected birds. The current risk to the general public from bird flu viruses is low; however, it is important to remember that risk depends on exposure, and people with more exposure might have a greater risk of infection. Although the CDC considers risk of HPAI spread to humans to be very low, Montanans should take precautions when handling harvested game birds or any sick or dead bird they find. Whenever possible, avoid contact with sick or dead wildlife. Even if a bird is not suspected to have died from a contagious disease, gloves should always be worn if a dead animal must be handled for disposal.

Raptors are susceptible to HPAI and are typically exposed via eating infected birds. The general recommendation for falconers is to avoid hunting and/or feeding wild birds, particularly waterfowl, during the outbreak. Enhanced biosecurity practices with enhanced cleaning and limiting contact with wild birds or birds from other facilities is also warranted. Sick falcons should be promptly reported to a veterinarian and be quarantined from other birds in the facility.

Bird hunters should follow these simple precautions when processing or handling wild game:

• Do not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead.

• Wear disposable latex or rubber gloves while cleaning game or cleaning bird feeders.

• Clean game birds outdoors in a well-ventilated area.

• Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game.

• Avoid contact between people, equipment and materials that have been in contact with wild birds and backyard poultry flocks to avoid bringing the virus back to your flock.

• Wash hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes immediately after handling game or cleaning bird feeders.

• Wash tools and work surfaces used to clean game birds with soap and water, then disinfect with a 10 percent solution of chlorine bleach—one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water.

• Separate raw meat, and anything it touches, from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid contamination.

• Cook game meat thoroughly to an internal temperature of at least 165°F.

Poultry owners should maintain separation between wild birds and domestic poultry. Bird feeders should not be kept near poultry and should be cleaned regularly with a 10 percent bleach solution. Disposable gloves should be worn when cleaning bird feeders.

For more information on AI in wild birds, visit fwp.mt.gov/conservation/diseases/avian-influenza, or visit the USGS website at http://www.usgs.gov/centers/nwhc/science/avian-influenza-surveillance.

 
 
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