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10/09/2015

Waterfowl Season: Hunters Can Help Protect Pennsylvania’s Poultry Industry, Against High Path Avian Influenza

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Game Commission stress need to be aware of HPAI signs this hunting season

Harrisburg, PA
- While Pennsylvania has not yet been impacted by the high path avian influenza (HPAI), state officials continue emphasizing the need for vigilance against the deadly poultry disease. Officials from the state Department of Agriculture and the Game Commission are ensuring hunters understand the seriousness of this virus and know the signs to look for when out this hunting season.

“We understand the importance of hunting here in Pennsylvania and don’t want to discourage anyone from enjoying this recreational pastime,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “However, we want hunters to be aware of the signs of HPAI. If any hunters were to come in contact with an infected bird, we’d want them to know the signs to minimize the spread of the virus.”

Avian influenza or bird flu is a respiratory disease of birds caused by an influenza Type-A virus. The virus can infect poultry including chicken, ducks, quail, pheasants, guinea, fowl and turkeys as well as some wild bird species such as ducks, swans and geese. The high path strain, which is extremely infectious and spreads rapidly, is often fatal to domestic poultry.

Signs of HPAI in poultry include: sudden death, marked loss of appetite, reduced feed consumption, cessation of normal flock vocalization, drops in egg production, depression, coughing, nasal and ocular discharge, swollen face, cyanosis of comb/wattles, diarrhea (often green in color), and nervous signs such as paralysis. Historically, HPAI in wild birds has been very rare; however, the H5 HPAI virus strains that circulated in North American wild and domestic birds last winter and spring caused disease in certain species of waterfowl and raptors. For waterfowl, HPAI virus infection in ducks is usually asymptomatic, whereas geese are more likely to show signs of disease.

Hunters are asked to follow these tips when handling their harvested birds:

  • Dress your wild birds in the field whenever possible.
  • If you must dress wild birds at home, clean in an area poultry and pet birds cannot access.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning wild birds.
  • Wear rubber gloves while cleaning wild birds or cleaning bird feeders.
  • Wash hands with soap and water immediately after handling wild birds or cleaning bird feeders. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol wipes.
  • Wash all tools and work surfaces with soap and water. Then disinfect them.
  • Double bag the internal organs and feathers. Tie the inner bag, and be sure to take off your gloves and leave them in the outer bag before tying it closed. Dispose of the bag with trash to ensure it ends up in a landfill.
  • 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 degrees Fahrenheit to kill disease organisms and parasites.

“The threat of this virus is very real, and the consequences could be devastating to our state. It is important for everyone to help us keep Pennsylvania safe,” Redding reiterated.

Hunters are also encouraged to follow the below biosecurity measures to help prevent any possible movement or introduction of HPAI into a poultry flock:

  • Do not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead.
  • Avoid entering a poultry premises for at least 72 hours after hunting or walking in waterfowl or gamebird habitats.
  • Always shower between any exposure to wildlife or wildlife habitat and having contact with poultry, especially entrance onto a poultry facility.
  • Always wear clean clothing onto a poultry premises.
  • Never wear hunting or walking shoes that were in waterfowl or other game bird areas onto a poultry premises (even under plastic booties, unless they have been cleaned and disinfected).
  • Never wear hunting clothes (coats, hats, shoes, boots, gloves, coveralls, shirts, pants, waders, gaiters, etc.) on a poultry farm.
  • Never take hunting or other outdoor gear (knives, saws, GPS units, cameras, backpacks, water bottles, lunchboxes, cellphones, guns, bows, fishing poles, etc.) onto poultry premises.
  • Never take a vehicle onto a poultry premise that was driven in waterfowl or game bird habitats or used by hunters/hikers unless it has been cleaned and disinfected inside and outside.

Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough urged hunters to follow all recommendations regarding the handling of harvested game birds and waterfowl, and to do their part to remain vigilant against HPAI. HPAI poses threats to both domestic poultry and wild birds, meaning the more than 200,000 ring-necked pheasants raised each year for release on public hunting grounds also are at risk if the virus is introduced into Pennsylvania.

“Because of the time they spend in the field, observing and hunting migratory birds and other wildlife, hunters very much are on the front lines when it comes to protecting Pennsylvania from high path avian influenza,” Hough said. “We all remain hopeful the virus won’t show up here, but if it does, we are prepared to react and react quickly.

“Hunters need to educate themselves to know the clinical signs of HPAI, and employ safe practices in handling wild birds they harvest,” Hough said. “We all are in this together.”

While HPAI has not yet been identified in Pennsylvania, Hough said the state’s hunters could be affected if it turns up here. Access likely would be prohibited to areas or facilities associated with the virus, due to biosecurity needs. As always, it’s important for hunters to know where they’re hunting. And for those hunting on private land, particularly farms with poultry, hunters are urged to contact the landowners to make sure they still allow hunting on their property.

For more information about avian influenza, visit the department’s website at www.agriculture.pa.gov or the United States Department of Agriculture’s website at www.usda.gov. For more information about hunting in Pennsylvania, visit the Game Commission website at www.pgc.state.pa.us.

MEDIA CONTACT: Brandi Hunter-Davenport, Agriculture - 717.787.5085
                            Travis Lau, Game Commission - 717.705.6541

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