300 waterbirds found dead in southern Illinois hunting areas. Officials suspect bird flu

Illinois Department of Natural Resources

At least 300 waterbirds have been found dead in public hunting spots throughout southern Illinois, according to state wildlife officials.

The wild birds, mostly snow geese, are believed to have died of avian influenza, authorities said in a Nov. 29 news release. Avian influenza is commonly referred to as bird flu.

The dead birds were found recently at Baldwin Lake, Pyramid State Recreation Area, Rend Lake and Carlyle Lake, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

These deaths come several months after highly pathogenic avian influenza was detected in Canada geese in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Agriculture issued a joint notice with the Department of Natural Resources in March.

“IDNR will continue to monitor for ongoing outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, during the fall bird migration,” officials said. Meanwhile, anyone who sees 20 or more dead birds at one spot are asked to report it to a district wildlife biologist.

What is bird flu?

Avian influenza, or bird flu, is a disease caused by inflection with avian influenza A viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The viruses typically occur naturally in wild aquatic birds, and they can infect poultry and other bird species.

“Avian influenza A viruses are very contagious among birds, and some of these viruses can sicken and even kill certain domesticated bird species, including chickens, ducks and turkeys,” the CDC said. “Infected birds can shed avian influenza A viruses in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces.”

The viruses do not normally infect humans, according to the CDC, though “sporadic human infections with bird flu viruses have occurred.”

Waterfowl hunter safety

Hunters should avoid handling any sick or dead birds found in the field, Illinois officials said, and they should not allow their hunting dogs or pets to eat waterfowl that died of unknown causes.

“Rubber gloves and a mask should be worn when disposing of any deceased wild birds, and carcasses should be double-bagged in sealed plastic bags,” according to the release. “The bags can be buried away from scavengers or placed in the garbage if approved by the local waste service provider.”

Waterfowl hunters should also be sure to properly cook game meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, officials said.

Anyone who handles dead birds should thoroughly wash their hands, clothes and tools with soap and water.

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