Deer in Spring Landscape

What Hunters Should Know about Avian Influenza

Quick Facts About Avian Influenza and Asian H5N1

  • Avian influenza (AI) is an infectious disease of birds. Aquatic birds (including waterfowl) are considered the natural reservoir of this virus. Low pathogenic forms of AI are common in wild bird populations.

  • Avian influenza virus usually does not cause illness in waterfowl or shorebirds.

  • The highly pathogenic form of this disease—H5N1— has caused mortality in domestic poultry and some wild species of ducks, geese, egrets, herons, and gulls in Asia and Eastern Europe.

  • Highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza has not been found in North America.

  • Increasing reports of highly pathogenic H5N1 AI virus spreading to new regions in Asia and Eastern Europe have created concerns that the Asian H5N1 virus could be carried to North America by migratory birds. At this time, it is unclear what role wild birds play in the spread of this virus.

  • Frequently Asked Questions

    Q: Can humans catch avian influenza from wild birds?
    A: There are no known cases of humans getting avian influenza from wild birds.

    Q: How could Asian H5N1 enter North America?
    A: The Asian H5N1 virus is most likely to enter through the movement of infected poultry, illegally imported birds or bird products, or migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.

    Q: Should bird hunters be concerned about Asian H5N1?
    A: Hunters should not be overly concerned at the present time, but hunters are encouraged stay informed and educated on this issue. Hunters should take some common sense hygiene precautions while hunting and cleaning harvested game birds.

    Q: How can I protect myself from potential bird diseases while hunting?
    A: The following suggestions are common sense precautions that hunters should follow when hunting:

    1. Do not handle birds that are obviously sick or birds found dead.
    2. Keep your game birds cool, clean, and dry.
    3. Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning your birds.
    4. Use rubber gloves when cleaning game.
    5. Wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes after dressing birds.
    6. Clean all tools and surfaces immediately afterward; use hot soapy water, then disinfect with a 10% chlorine bleach solution.
    7. Cook game meat thoroughly (165F – well done) to kill disease organisms.
    8. Dispose of gloves and other wastes properly.

    Q: Are hunting dogs at risk of getting Avian Influenza?
    A: Dogs used in wild game bird hunting are not considered at risk of acquiring avian flu, since there have been no documented cases of the Asian H5N1 virus infecting dogs in North America. Nevertheless, prudent dog owners should prevent their dogs from having contact with game birds that are obviously sick or found dead in the field. Nor should hunters feed their dogs any raw meat from game birds. These are routine safety precautions that hunting dog owners should already be following. Owners of hunting dogs should keep well informed on this issue and should consult their veterinarian for more information about influenza in pets.

    Q: What is being done to detect Avian Influenza in wild birds?
    A: Maryland DNR has been conducting surveillance for AI in wild birds since the summer of 2005 and will expand monitoring efforts in 2006. The Maryland DNR will focus its AI sampling on species that migrate from Alaska and Europe. This surveillance will assist in the national effort to provide early detection of the Asian H5N1 virus in wild bird populations.

    Q: How can hunters help?
    A: You can help MD DNR monitor the health of Maryland’s wild bird populations by reporting die-offs of large numbers of birds (5 or more) in your area to USDA / Wildlife Services 1-877-463-6497 – Toll-free (M-F 8-4:30) During hunting seasons, biologists may ask hunters for permission to collect samples from harvested waterfowl and other birds.

    For More Information about Avian Influenza National Wildlife Health Center Maryland Department of Agriculture Maryland Department of Natural Resources Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene United States Department of Agriculture

    USDA / Wildlife Services – Toll-free (M-F 8-4:30)

    Maryland DNR - Wildlife & Heritage Service (M-F 8-4:30)
    410-260-8540 (or Toll-free in Maryland) 877-620-8367 x8540

    Maryland DNR - Toll-free Emergency Call Center (24/7)

    Other Links to Information About Avian Influenza

    FWS Scientific Information on Avian Influenza

    The official U.S. government Web site for information on pandemic flu and avian influenza is

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