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October 07, 2002
Contact: Rocky Beach, (360) 902-2510

West Nile Virus should serve as reminder to bird hunters to use precautions

OLYMPIA - Waterfowl and upland bird hunters in Washington state should wear long-sleeve shirts and use mosquito repellent in the field as simple precautions against West Nile virus, following the recent discovery of an infected dead raven, officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) said today.

West Nile virus is primarily a bird disease. Mosquitoes become infected by feeding on an infected bird and can pass the virus on to humans, horses and other hosts. State health officials said the risk of becoming ill from the virus is low, and there have been no human or horse cases of West Nile in Washington.

State health officials announced Oct. 2 that the virus had been detected in a dead raven collected near Newport, Washington. The discovery marked the first time the West Nile virus has been detected in the state.

WDFW officials said there is no known evidence that West Nile virus is spread directly from harvested game birds to humans, nor has the virus been detected in any Washington state game bird species.

Nevertheless, bird hunters should practice the same precautions that the Department urges all hunters to use when handling any harvested game species, including using rubber gloves when cleaning the animals, WDFW officials said.

"The risk of hunters actually contracting the disease from game birds is extremely low, but because the virus is blood-borne, some precautions are advisable when handling harvested birds," said Rocky Beach, a WDFW program manager.

"As such, we are reminding hunters to use gloves and to wash their hands and equipment after handling harvested game birds," Beach said.

Similar recommendations have been made by other states and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Because heat kills the virus, eating a cooked game bird should pose no health risk to humans, Beach added.

Additional information on the virus and protective measures can be found on the Washington Department of Health's West Nile virus website on the Internet.