With threat from avian flu in Pennsylvania and beyond, hunters should take precautions

The first major threat of avian influenza – often referred to as AI – since the 1980s is raising concerns among agriculture and wildlife officials in Pennsylvania and beyond. While the highly contagious respiratory virus continues to decimate western domestic poultry farms, a wild Canada goose recently tested positive in the Ontario province just north of Lake Erie, posing even more threat to our local flocks.

According to a USDA release, the virus’s various strains can infect domestic chickens, quail, pheasants, guinea fowl and turkeys and some wild bird species, such as ducks, swans and geese. The virus impacts poultry and wild birds in different ways, however, as wild birds can carry the virus but usually do not get sick from it, while domesticated birds can become very sick and die.

AI has yet to turn up in Pennsylvania, but it still has leaders in the farming community pretty concerned- so much that poultry was excluded from exhibition at my local county fair.

“Lebanon County has a huge stake in this if the flu hits Pennsylvania,” said Angie Foltz Program Specialist for the Lebanon County Conservation District, which serves one of the leading egg and poultry producing counties in the region. “It is worth pointing out how easily transferred this disease is and to remind all hunters of some basic bio-security tips.”

USDA’s “Guidance for Hunters” offers various recommendations for sportsmen – especially those with their own domestic flocks at home – to keep themselves and their birds safe from the AI virus.

These guidelines include: 

  • Dress game birds in the field whenever possible. If you must dress birds at home, clean them in an area your poultry and pet birds cannot access. Ideally, there would be a solid barrier between your game cleaning area and where your birds are housed.
  • 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.
  • 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 offal 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. 
  • Avoid cross-contamination. Keep uncooked game in a separate container, away from cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
  • Cook game meat thoroughly; poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165 °F to kill disease organisms and parasites.

Through diligent sanitation efforts, successful migratory bird hunters can do their part to prevent the spread of avian flu through our wild and domestic flocks. If you're anything like me, you love having healthy birds to hunt and eggs to pair with your deer sausage breakfast. Our flocks would be a terrible thing to lose.  

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