OSU Extension News Release
It is once again hunting season in Oklahoma. As hunters find success in the field and harvest wildlife, it is important to consider how to safely handle the carcasses to stay safe. Wildlife can be infected with various zoonotic diseases that are transmissible to humans. Additionally, wildlife often harbors ticks and fleas which are disease vectors and can transmit diseases.
Some of the diseases that may be encountered in Oklahoma and can infect hunters include ehrlichioses, leptospirosis, Lyme disease, tularemia, trichinosis, rabies, Rocky Mountain spotted tick fever, salmonella, and swine brucellosis. Hunters often become wary when they observe odd behavior in wildlife or notice injury or signs of disease on animal carcasses. However, the absence of these obvious signs should not cause complacency in the safe handling of harvested animals. Any animal should be treated as a potential source of infection.
There are several ways to protect yourself when handling wildlife carcasses. First, avoid direct contact with any body fluids such as blood, lymph fluid, urine, feces, and saliva. When handling carcasses, always wear disposable gloves that provide a barrier between you and the animal. Two layers of gloves are a good idea to provide an extra layer of protection in case a tear develops in a glove. Also, wear some type of eye protection to keep body fluids from splashing into your eyes. A face shield will provide better protection by also covering your mouth and nose which could be points of entry.
Take your time when cleaning harvested animals and make sure you have adequate lighting which will help prevent cutting yourself with a knife or being injured by broken bones on the carcass. When removing gloves, look for any injury on your hands that might indicate a glove was pierced. If you see any cuts, immediately treat them with antiseptic. Wash your hands, arms, and face immediately after handling the carcass. Also wear gloves and face protection when packaging meat for storage.
Wildlife often have ticks and fleas. These potential disease vectors will seek a new host as the wildlife carcass cools. Spraying yourself with insect repellant prior to handling the wildlife will help keep them off you, but be sure to examine your entire body immediately after handling the carcass and remove any ticks or fleas found.
When cooking wildlife, use a meat thermometer to ensure you are heating the meat to USDA recommended safe temperatures. Note that the safe temperature for wildlife may differ from recommendations for domestic animals. For example, while trichinosis has largely been eliminated form domestic pork, it may be present in feral hogs and bear. Therefore, cook the meat to 160°F to kill this disease.
Finally, if you develop symptoms that may indicate a zoonotic disease, be sure to tell your doctor that you have recently handled wildlife. Many diseases have similar symptoms such as fever, body aches, diarrhea, and nausea. Doctors may attribute your symptoms to a more common illness such as influenza since many zoonotic diseases are rarely encountered by the general public. It is critical to communicate with your healthcare provider to get proper care.