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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

DNR urges Wisconsin waterfowl hunters take precautions to prevent exposure to avian influenza

waterfowl hunt USFWS 4.jpeg
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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As Wisconsin hunting enthusiasts enjoy the season, the DNR urges hunters to take common sense precautions as avian influenza continues to impact waterfowl and other wild birds.

It’s waterfowl hunting season in Wisconsin, and duck hunting enthusiasts are excitedly taking to the water. But the Wisconsin DNR is asking them to be careful of highly pathogenic avian influenza, HPAI.

The virus has been causing illness and death among wild and domestic birds throughout the Midwest.

On March 14, 2022 the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protections confirmed the outbreak of HPAI in a commercial poultry flock in Jefferson County.

While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the current strain doesn’t present an immediate public health concern, the Wisconsin DNR state Wildlife veterinarian Lindsey Long is advising hunters take simple precautions when harvesting and handling wild birds.

HPAI is still circulating mostly among waterfowl.

“That’s little bit different than we’ve seen in the past. Previously we normally see it decline significantly over the summer and we might not see it in the fall, so that’s one of the reasons we just wanted people to be aware not to overexpose themselves,” Long says.

State and federal agencies are monitoring the outbreak, including the USDA wildlife services as part of its national surveillance efforts.

“To see how this virus might be moving right now, they coordinate across all the flyways. They’re looking at specific watersheds and doing some outreach and some surveillance on their harvested birds.

Long says the DNR is asking for the public’s help as the agency investigates mortalities. “So if people are noticing five or more six or dead waterfowl in the area, they can reach out to us,” she says.

Long says HPAI is impacting wild birds beyond waterfowl. “We’ve had eagles that have tested positive and other raptor species that have been tested positive and gotten sick from this virus. So that’s where we keep our specific monitoring around, those species that tend to be either naturally carry these avian viruses but this one is causing disease and also the raptors that consume them,” Long says.

As for waterfowl hunters, Long says the precautions being advised are common sense measures that are always good to follow.

“When you are harvesting wildlife you are a lot of time handling animals that you don’t have a history on, and also you’re a lot of time handing internal organs that you don’t normally handling when you purchase from the grocery store and that’s typically where a lot of pathogens are,” Long says. “These are just good precautions in your mind whenever you’re working or harvesting wild or domestic animals.”

Recommendations include:

  • Do not handle or eat sick game.
  • Field dress and prepare game outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
  • Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning game.
  • When finished handling game, wash hands thoroughly with soap or disinfectant.
  • Clean knives, equipment and surfaces that came in contact with game.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while handling animals.
  • All game should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F before being consumed.

Long says hunters who have domestic birds should take additional precautions.
“Making sure they’re not wearing the same boots, that they wash hands. And cleaning equipment, not using similar things in the area where they might pass the virus on the domestic birds... is really important,” Long says.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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