If you're a turkey hunter it pays to be aware of some simple measures to avoid the spread of avian influenza.
Highly-pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has not yet been reported in wild turkeys, but it has been confirmed in domestic turkey flocks and other birds such as waterfowl.
While humans are at low risk for HPAI, several state wildlife departments are asking turkey hunters to help in identifying avian influenza and in helping to ensure the health of wild turkey populations in their areas.
A recent Minnesota Department of Natural Resources email bulletin reported just how hunters can help in this area.
Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health program supervisor with the MN DNR stated, "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."
The following is, verbatim, what the DNR suggests hunters be aware of when handling turkey or waterfowl:
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.
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 your state wildlife agency 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 your state wildlife agency with the coordinates.
The USDA also published an information guide geared towards turkey hunters, which is also well worth familiarizing yourself with. The human risk is minimal, but you know what they say about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. You're awareness may also help in ensuring a long-term stable and healthy population of wild turkeys.
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