Avian Influenza - Spring 2022
Avian influenza (AI) is a disease caused by a virus in wild birds such as ducks and geese, gulls, raptors, and shorebirds. It can also affect domestic gamebirds and poultry like chickens, turkeys, and other birds, and can spread quickly in affected flocks.
Some AI viruses are more severe than others. Those that cause severe disease in poultry are called Highly Pathogenic AI (HPAI) viruses.
In early 2022, HPAI was detected in several eastern states. In February 2022, the first case of HPAI in New York was found in Suffolk County. NYSDEC is working with the NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Cornell Wildlife Health program to monitor AI and HPAI in New York.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has said that the recent HPAI detections in birds do not present an immediate public health concern. No human cases of these avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States. While the risk of a person becoming infected is low, you can protect yourself by harvesting only game that appears to be healthy and properly cooking any game meat you eat to an internal temperature of 165° F, which kills the virus. If you handle wild birds, particularly waterfowl, gulls, and raptors, you should follow precautions such as using personal protective equipment like masks, gloves, and eye protection, and washing your hands thoroughly.
COVID-19 and White-tailed Deer
Recent studies by USDA found that white-tailed deer may carry COVID-19 antibodies (an indication they had been exposed to the virus) or may carry the virus itself. Work in New York found 18% of samples collected here had SARS-CoV-2 (virus that causes COVID-19) antibodies. Field samples were collected opportunistically, so may not accurately reflect overall exposure rates in free-ranging deer. It is not known how free-ranging deer were exposed to the virus, but it is speculated that it could have been through people, the environment, other deer, or another animal species.
There is no evidence that animals, including deer, are playing a significant role in the spread of COVID-19, and based on existing evidence the risk to people from animals is low. Most people will not come into direct contact with wildlife and "best practices" for interacting with wildlife that existed pre-COVID still apply - if you care, leave it there. If wildlife is injured or trapped in a place it should not be, contact a regional wildlife office, wildlife rehabilitator, or nuisance wildlife control operator.
Continuing to follow "best practices" is also true for hunters and trappers who may harvest deer or other game. Wear gloves when field dressing and processing game, carefully wash hands, and disinfect equipment afterwards. Hunters and trappers should also consider wearing a face mask when field dressing or processing game.
People like wildlife rehabilitators and captive deer owners who come in to direct contact with wild or captive deer should limit contact when and where possible and follow proper biosecurity procedures when direct contact needs to occur such as wearing gloves and a face mask, thoroughly washing hands before and after contact, and properly disinfecting equipment.
The best form of protection from COVID-19 infection is to get vaccinated, and when eligible, to get a booster.
Safety Recommendations for Hunters and Trappers
Hunters and trappers are likely to have close, direct contact with wildlife during field-dressing, butchering, and skinning. Hunters and trappers should use the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to prevent exposure. These precautions offer protection from COVID-19 as well as other viruses, bacteria, or parasites that might be present in deer or furbearers (rabies, Tularemia, etc.).
Recommendations to Limit Exposure to COVID-19 and Other Viruses, Bacteria, or Parasites:
- Do not harvest a deer or other game that looks or acts sick. Report sick or emaciated deer to DEC.
- Use personal protective equipment (PPE) to limit transmission of aerosols, blood, or saliva including designated clothing that can be washed in hot water, a surgical face mask, eye protection, and disposable gloves that are changed between each use.
- Hands should be cleaned after removing gloves. If gloves are not available, hands should be cleaned with soap and water or an 80% alcohol hand cleaner before handling animals and between handling each animal. Use disposable towels to dry hands after cleaning.
- Cook game meat thoroughly.
- Follow all current state COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations including getting vaccinated against COVID-19. The vaccine vastly reduces the probability of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms, but it may not prevent infection or virus shedding; therefore, respiratory protection is still recommended.
For more information visit these websites (all leave DEC website):
- CDC COVID-19 and Wildlife
- USDA APHIS Coronavirus in Animals
- World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Questions and Answers on COVID-19
Songbird Illness Update - Summer 2021
An unknown illness that is affecting young songbirds (grackles, blue jays, robins and starlings) in states to the south and west of New York has been receiving a lot of interest. DEC is actively examining potential cases reported by the public. To date there is no evidence of bird mortality in New York due to this illness. As the disease begins to decline elsewhere we anticipate it will not become a factor affecting birds in the state. We will remain diligent in monitoring our bird populations for signs of the disease and continue to stay informed on the status of the disease in other eastern states.
For the latest songbird illness updates, visit these webpages (leaves DEC website):
New York State Wildlife Health Program
The New York State Cooperative Wildlife Health Program (WHP) is a partnership between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Bureau of Wildlife and Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory (leaves DEC website) that works to safeguard the long-term health of the wildlife populations of New York.
Information on several wildlife diseases can be found in the left column. Additional wildlife disease fact sheets (leaves DEC website) can be found on the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab webpage. They were developed by the New York State Cooperative Wildlife Health Program. These fact sheets may be downloaded as PDFs.
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD) is a fatal virus that affects rabbits and hares. A new strain, RHDV2, was identified in 2010. In 2020, RHDV2 jumped to wild rabbits and hares in the southwestern U.S., where it spread to six states within four months. It can infect wild rabbits and hares in addition to domestic rabbits. RHDV2 is extremely hardy, easily transmitted, and highly lethal to rabbits and hares. The most likely routes of introduction to New York are through transported domestic rabbits, internationally imported rabbit products, or people who travel to outbreak areas in the Southwest.
- Read our RHDV2 factsheet (PDF) to learn more about how it spreads, ways to prevent it, and what you can do to help.
- Check out the factsheets for falconers and hunters (leaves DEC website) on the RHD Awareness Team's website.
- Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) in New York - Information on the outbreak of Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) in New York.