As harvest winds down and combines head back to the shop, ATVs are being prepped, wetland camo is being aired out and blinds are being hosed out. The Mid-South duck season is rapidly approaching.
And with it come worries that an inadvertent mistake by hunters could lead to the spread of avian, or bird, influenza. That’s because scientists say wild birds, ducks mainly, are a key vector in the spread of the H5 flu virus that was found in populations late last year.
This year, multiple hearings at the state and federal levels have addressed bird flu and it’s easy to see why. After infection with the “high pathogenic” version of the flu, millions of birds in affected poultry operations have been put down around the world. This is done at great expense to producers and, because the price must be passed on, eventually to consumers.
If the flu is detected, U.S. health officials are now aiming to “depopulate” or kill off, entire poultry houses within 24 to 48 hours. This spring alone, 14 million chickens and turkeys were killed during a flu outbreak in the upper Midwest.
To help catch any potential outbreak early, ducks are being tested for the high path viruses in every U.S. flyway. So far, the good news for hunters and poultry farmers is that 750-plus ducks shot and tested in Minnesota this fall are free of viruses like H5N2. Around 20 percent of the birds were carriers of low pathogenic bird flu, which is not a concern.
So what should duck hunters be cautious about going into the new season? Scott Manley, Ducks Unlimited Director of Conservation Innovation, points readers to the following commonsense bullet points.
- Don’t handle or eat game animals found dead or obviously ill.
- Don’t eat, drink or smoke when cleaning game.
- Wear rubber gloves to clean game.
- Following cleaning, immediately wash hands with soap and water or use alcohol wipes on hands.
- Wash tools and work surfaces with soap and water, then disinfect.
- Keep uncooked game in separate containers, away from cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook waterfowl thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.