Nov 20, 2023 - News

Bird flu expert urges hunters to use caution this duck season

Duck hunting in Stuttgart. Photo: Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

Hunters shooting waterfowl should be mindful of avian influenza and take some basic precautions, a World Health Organization expert told Axios.

Driving the news: The first segment of duck hunting season in Arkansas began Saturday morning and runs through Sunday.

The big picture: Commonly called bird flu, avian influenza isn't generally a human health concern, but the current strain (H5N1) has infected some mammals, raising concerns that the virus could adapt to people.

  • The strain is highly contagious and was in part blamed for high food prices last year, as it wiped out flocks raised for meat and eggs.

Yes, but: Wild birds that carry the virus across the continent as they migrate seem to have built some natural immunity, Richard Webby, director of a WHO collaboration center focused on studying flu in animals, told Axios. Therefore, it's not spreading as rapidly so far this fall.

What he's saying: Hunters should use basic hygienic procedures, much like most of the world learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, Webby said.

  • Disinfecting boots and clothing used in the field is one measure.
  • Not discarding internal organs of game where dogs or birds might be is another.

By the numbers: The current outbreak dates to February 2022.

  • So far, it's impacted 47 states and more than 63 million commercial and backyard chicken and turkey flocks.

Zoom in: Four cases were reported in Arkansas — three of those in 2022. The most recent was in Madison County on Oct. 31, infecting more than 31,000 breeding chickens.

Of note: The second segment of waterfowl hunting season in the Natural State runs Dec. 9-23 and the third Dec. 27-Jan. 31.

Go deeper: Sign up for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's waterfowl report or view online.


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