How Does the 2022 Avian Influenza Outbreak Affect Hunters? – Foundry Outdoors
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How Does the 2022 Avian Influenza Outbreak Affect Hunters?

How Does the 2022 Avian Influenza Outbreak Affect Hunters?


In late 2021, the first North American case of a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was reported in Newfoundland, eastern Canada. While this strain of the virus had been identified in Eurasia, it spread to North America on the wings of wild birds and will likely continue to spread throughout the continent now that we are well into the spring migration. 

The Basics of the Avian Influenza Virus

Different strains of avian influenza circulate through bird populations naturally all the time. In North America alone, the US Geological Survey has identified and characterized more than 2,600 low pathogenic avian influenza viruses since 2016. 

The term “low pathogenic” refers to the disease outcome in chickens, meaning poultry infected with low pathogenic strains of the virus do not experience severe clinical disease. When a virus is classified as “highly pathogenic”, it does cause disease in chickens. However, highly pathogenic viruses do not necessarily have the same impacts on wild birds like waterfowl that they do on poultry. Most AI viruses naturally circulate through wild bird populations without many negative impacts. 


The naming system for AI viruses is based on two surface proteins: hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). There are 16 “H”’s and 9 possible “N”’s for viruses to express. The viruses currently circulating causing a highly pathogenic influenza is H5N1 and H5. 


How is HPAI transmitted?


Avian influenza is transmitted via the fecal-oral route, meaning the virus is shed out of both ends of a bird. Social waterfowl species can transmit the disease through fecal matter shed into a water source and then contacted by other birds. 


How does HPAI affect birds? 


Different avian influenza viruses have different clinical effects on birds, and this particular strain of the virus in 2022 seems to be different than prior years’ viruses. Right now, scientists are conducting active surveillance as well as collecting data from the public on suspect cases. Time will tell the full nature of this virus, but preliminary data shows it affecting birds in different ways than past outbreaks have. In wild birds, a wide variety of species have already been affected by the virus, including raptors, shorebirds and waterfowl. 

Source: USDA-APHIS


While most cases in wild birds have been individuals, a mass mortality event in scaup in Florida where hundreds of birds died was reported. In the central flyway, a proportion of the migrating light geese have also succumbed to the disease. It’s too early to say whether the effects of this disease outbreak will be felt by bird hunters, especially waterfowlers. Keep on the lookout for suspicious dead birds and birds exhibiting neurologic signs like swaying and loss of fear. 


When HPAI infects a domestic poultry flock, the outcome is detrimental as commercial farms exposed to the virus are depopulated in order to prevent further spread and disease on site. As of mid-April 2022, over 24 million domestic poultry birds have been lost due to the virus or associated depopulations. 


What does all of this mean for hunters?


Concerned hunters should check the CDC website for updated guidance on handling and eating wild birds during an HPAI outbreak. Guidelines can be found here but some of the noteworthy takeaways include: 

  • Do not handle birds that are found dead or very ill
  • Wear gloves when field dressing birds
  • Disinfect boots worn while cleaning birds and hunting in wetlands
  • Cook meat thoroughly, to 165 degrees Fahrenheit

As far as effects on the birds we love to hunt, the full extent of this influenza outbreak remains unknown. Agencies will continue to collect data and conduct disease surveillance on live and dead wild birds throughout the summer, so as the disease moves across North American birds the broader picture of the extent of the outbreak will emerge.





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