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PIERRE Although there have been very few reports of the West Nile Virus affecting game birds in South Dakota, the public is asked to help in watching for signs of the virus.

"We have not seen much impact from West Nile Virus in wild game bird populations in South Dakota," said George Vandel, assistant director for the Game, Fish and Parks Division of Wildlife. "But we know the virus can infect game birds, and we would like the public to report any signs of pheasants, grouse and other game birds that appear to be ill or may have just died of unknown causes."

Vandel said that West Nile virus had been found in the blood of both pheasants and grouse. He also noted that two prairie chickens that had been fitted with radio tracking devices for a study on the Fort Pierre National Grasslands had died, and subsequent tests showed the virus in their blood. Both Wyoming and Montana have reported cases of the virus in sage grouse populations.

"We have been closely monitoring for the presence of this virus in wild game birds, and it is very important for scientific testing that a sick bird be picked up while still alive or recently killed. If any decomposition sets in, testing becomes very difficult."

"Since sick or dead wild pheasants are very difficult to find, where we are most likely to first observe West Nile Virus is with birds in a pen-reared situation. Most commercial pheasant facilities will now have their birds located outside in flight pens. Pen reared birds still require daily attention, and if they become infected with the West Nile Virus, hopefully the caretaker will notice and report the sick bird." Vandel encourages individuals who encounters sickly birds, whether wild or pen-raised, to contact a GFP office or a conservation officer.

Vandel also encouraged hunters to take normal precautions when cleaning game birds. "It may be possible to transfer the West Nile virus from the blood of a game bird through an open wound or sore on a hunter. Therefore, it is always good advice for hunters to wear rubber gloves and wash their hands and cleaning equipment with a disinfectant immediately after cleaning their birds."

Health officials have not found evidence that West Nile virus can be transmitted to humans by ingestion of properly cooked game bird meat, but hunters are advised not to eat the meat of game animals that appear sickly.






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