Botulism hitting fowl in Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Sep 17 2009 - 7:19am

BRIGHAM CITY aEU" The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is warning hunters that many of the birds in the public hunting area have been infected with botulism, a paralytic disease caused when birds ingest a toxin produced by bacteria.

Botulism is a common disease at the refuge, said wildlife biologist Bridget Olson, and occurs every year. She said the number of birds affected varies each year, and this year fewer birds have been affected.

While the type of botulism the birds have doesnaEU(tm)t generally affect humans, the refuge is still warning hunters who are attending the Youth Hunt this Saturday not to take any birds that appear sick.

"This is not the same type of botulism people get from food poisoning," Olson said.

"People and their dogs arenaEU(tm)t generally in danger, but there has been some cases. So as a precaution, people shouldnaEU(tm)t be shooting at ducks that appear sick and canaEU(tm)t fly away, and they shouldnaEU(tm)t let dogs take those that appear to be sick."

Botulism in humans is generally the result of eating improperly home-canned foods, which contain types A or B toxin. Type E toxin has been associated with improperly smoked fish. Type C toxin, the type that has infected the birds, has very few cases reported in people.

Birds with botulism will be unable to fly or walk, act lethargic, and have a drooping neck if they are in the water. Many of the birds drown because they cannot hold up their head, while others die from water deprivation, electrolyte imbalance, respiratory failure or predation.

Refuge workers said there will be an increase of dead waterfowl in the hunting area. Healthy birds, affected birds and dead birds are all commonly found in the same area.

Olson said the refuge has tried to research ways to prevent the birds from contracting the disease, but they have yet to fully understand it.

"ItaEU(tm)s a natural disease. There is still a lot about it we donaEU(tm)t understand. We still donaEU(tm)t understand the actual trigger for an outbreak."

Officials do know the bacteria that causes the birds to become sick develops in decomposing vegetation and invertebrates combined with warm temperatures and an environment with no oxygen.

Olsen said the cases of botulism should slow once the weather gets cooler.

Refuge manager Bob Barrett said the Youth Hunt, which is open to any hunter age 15 and younger, should see good conditions Saturday, despite the botulism outbreak.

"We have fairly good water conditions. We are very optimistic that the hunters will find some birds."

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