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Hunters Inquiring About Game Birds and West Nile Virus

As bird hunting seasons continue to open in North Dakota, more hunters are expressing concern with the spread of West Nile virus throughout the state, and safe handling and consumption of wild game birds.

Jacquie Ermer, North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife disease biologist, says there is no major risk to the game bird population. "Game birds may contract the virus," Ermer said, "but the virus usually clears the bloodstream in a short time and is unable to replicate. Thus the bird is no longer infectious. However, some game birds may actually succumb to the virus."

West Nile virus can cause encephalitis or meningitis. The virus is spread to humans, birds and other animals through the bite of an infected mosquito. A mosquito becomes infected by biting a bird that is carrying the virus.

The only proven modes of transmission of the West Nile virus are by a mosquito vector (a mosquito with the virus in its salivary glands injects the virus into the host when it feeds), blood transfusions, organ transplants, trans-placental transmission, and via breast feeding.

There is no evidence that humans can contract the disease by touching or field dressing a bird, Ermer said. "As a precaution against other viral or bacterial pathogens," she added, "hunters should wear rubber gloves when handling or field dressing an animal, and wash hands and tools thoroughly with soapy water or antiseptic wipes after field dressing."

Likewise, Ermer mentions, there is no evidence that a dog can become infected by flushing or retrieving a bird, or that the virus is spread through consumption of meat, or that meat is even affected.

As with any wild game, Ermer cautions to always cook meat thoroughly. The meat of birds should be cooked thoroughly, heating to an internal temperature of 170 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. "Cooking to this temperature will kill the WNV virus, as well as other viruses and bacteria, eliminating any possible chance of infection," she said.

Hunters are at a greater risk of exposure to the virus via a bite by an infected mosquito than by consuming meat of a bird. Therefore, Ermer said hunters should take the personal protection measures of wearing protective clothes (long sleeve shirts and long pants) and by using mosquito repellents on their clothing and skin (follow label directions concerning application) in order to prevent mosquito bites.

For more information about West Nile virus, contact the North Dakota Health Department at 1-800-472-2180; or visit their web site at; or call the North Dakota Game and Fish Department at 701-328-6300.




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