Wildlife Officials to Test Hunter-Harvested Ducks for Avian Influenza

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Florida DucksFlorida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services biologists will collect samples from hunter-harvested ducks to test for highly pathogenic avian influenza – H5N1. Sampling will occur at various times during the migratory game bird hunting season at several duck-hunting hot spots throughout Florida.

Hunters will not need to surrender their ducks, and participation is voluntary.  Biologists will obtain the samples by swabbing the ducks’ respiratory and digestive tracts. Scientists at a diagnostic lab will test the samples for avian influenza and other diseases. 

The sampling is part of a continuing international surveillance effort to determine if migratory birds carry the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian influenza in North America. Last year, more than 65,000 samples were collected nationwide, including more than 1,200 samples from Florida. None of the samples tested positive for the virus, including the 481 collected at check stations in Florida’s wildlife management areas.

While it is extremely unlikely that hunters could contract avian influenza from wild birds in Florida, officials recommend taking common-sense precautions to reduce the risk of contracting any disease from wildlife. For instance, do not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead; wear rubber gloves while cleaning game; clean game outdoors and stay upwind of game while cleaning; and do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game.

It’s also important to wash hands with soap and water immediately after handling game or cleaning bird feeders. Wash tools and work surfaces used to clean game birds with soap and water, then disinfect with a 10-percent bleach solution.

In addition, hunters should separate raw meat, and anything it touches, from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid contamination.

The FWC recommends cooking game birds thoroughly. Meat should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill disease organisms and parasites. 

For more information about avian influenza and the FWC’s monitoring program, including how to report observations of dead birds, visit MyFWC.com/bird/AvianInfluenza.htm.