Although most west nile virus-positive birds in other states have been American crows, infections also have been confirmed in many other species, including game birds.
"As of Aug. 20 we have not found west nile virus activity in Utah, but this could change any time," stated Clell Bagley, Utah State University Extension veterinarian.
"Until the time when west nile is identified here, there is a lower (but not zero) likelihood of the virus being present in any game bird than in states where the virus has already been found," continued Bagley.
"It is important to remember that there is no evidence that birds can transmit the virus to humans, but gloves should be worn when handling any dead bird or mammal," Bagley warns.
Bagley explains that because of their outdoor exposure, game hunters may be at risk if they become bitten by mosquitos in areas with west nile virus activity. The extent to which the virus may be present in wild game is unknown.
Surveillance studies are currently underway in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center, and with state and local wildlife biologists and naturalists to answer this question.
Hunters should follow the usual precautions when handling wild animals adds Bagley.
"Hunters should wear gloves when handling and cleaning animals to prevent blood exposure to bare hands, and meat should be cooked thoroughly. As an additional precaution, hunters should not collect or consume any animals, including birds, who appear to be exhibiting unusual behaviors, or appear to be ill or in poor condition prior to being shot," Bagley advised.
While outdoors, hunters should also take steps to prevent mosquitos from biting. An insect repellant should be administered to all subjects participating in outdoor activities. A long sleeved shirt should also be worn to cover areas which mosquitos may strike.
Hunters should check with their local area department of wildlife resources, state epidemiologist at the state health department for information on local area risk.