Although we’ve not seen any indication that any of the recently introduced (or reassorted) North American HPAI H5 viruses (H5N2, H5N8, H5N1) have the capacity to infect and sicken humans - they are related to several viruses that have a pretty nasty track record in that regard - and so caution is being urged for anyone likely to come in contact with them.
Over the past few months we’ve seen the CDC issue guidance on both Antiviral Chemoprophylaxis For Persons With Exposure To Avian Flu and Guidance For Testing For Novel Flu – primarily for poultry farmers and cullers who may have had exposure to the virus. Last week the CDC released a consolidated Updated Interim Guidance On Handling & Treatment Of Novel Flu Infections
While the infection risks may be small, with HPAI viruses presumably spreading in wild and migratory birds and spring hunting season opening up in some states, concerns over possible exposure to hunters taking wild game must also be addressed.
Unlike many other states (see Wild Bird Findings confirmed by USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories), Minnesota has yet to report HPAI in wild birds. But with at least 14 commercial poultry operations -scattered across nine counties - hit by the H5N2 virus, the assumption is that the virus is circulating locally in wild birds.
Yesterday the Minnesota DNR (Department of Natural Resources) released the following advice in advance of the opening of their spring turkey hunting season.
(Released April 13, 2015)
While avian influenza has not yet been found in wild turkeys, hunters are nonetheless reminded of ways to avoid potentially spreading the virus.
To date, highly-pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been found in Cottonwood, Kandiyohi, Lac Qui Parle, Lyon, Meeker, Nobles, Pope, Stearns and Watonwan counties. So far, it has only been confirmed in domestic turkey farms. Waterfowl are the natural reservoirs for the virus.
Wild turkeys are presumed to be susceptible to HPAI. Raptors are known to be susceptible.The virus presents a low risk to humans but it is important to avoid contact with sick birds.
“Turkey hunters can take steps to minimize the risk of spreading HPAI, and they can be excellent scouts in helping identify wild birds like raptors or turkeys that could have been affected,” said Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The USDA makes the following recommendations for turkey hunters to protect themselves and their birds from avian influenza.
In the field
- Do not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead.
- Dress your game birds in the field whenever possible.
- Use dedicated tools for cleaning game, whether in the field or at home. Do not use those tools around your poultry or pet birds.
- Always wear rubber gloves when cleaning game.
- Double bag the internal organs and feathers. Tie the inner bag, and be sure to take off your rubber gloves and leave them in the outer bag before tying it closed. Place the bag in a trash can that poultry and pet birds cannot access. This trash can should also be secure against access by children, pets, or other animals.
- Wash hands with soap and water immediately after handling game. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol wipes.
- Wash all tools and work surfaces with soap and water. Then, disinfect them. Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning game.
- If you clean a bird at home, keep a separate pair of shoes to wear only in your game cleaning area. If this is not possible, wear rubber footwear and clean/disinfect your shoes before entering or leaving the area.
- Wash all tools and work surfaces with soap and water. Then, disinfect them.
- Avoid cross-contamination. Keep uncooked game in a separate container, away from cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
- You should always cook game meat thoroughly; poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill disease organisms and parasites.
The risk to the public is very low, and there is no food safety concern, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
The DNR also advises hunters that if they see any birds that have died in the field or appear sick (ruffled feathers, swollen wattles, discoloration of the feet and impaired balance) notify DNR staff as soon as possible and don’t touch or attempt to move the birds.
If you see a dead or sick wild turkey or raptor, mark the location by GPS if possible and contact DNR with the coordinates. Contacts are:
- Wildlife Health Program Supervisor Michelle Carstensen at 612-390-9979;
- Wildlife Health Specialist Erik Hildebrand at 612-597-8141; or
- Contact your local area wildlife manager by finding their information at www.mndnr.gov/wildlife and clicking on the area contact map.
Additional information about avian influenza is on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/avianinfluenza.
Since HPAI H5 has been reported in one form or another in 15 states this winter, it is likely we’ll see variations on this theme released by other states, and by other agencies in the weeks to come.