RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Officials want to remind hunters to be aware and cautious when “handling wild birds during hunting season” because of avian influenza.

Although no new cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) have been found in wild birds in North Carolina, officials said it is time to take precautions because birds “that migrated to other states and Canada during the spring and summer, where HPAI was present, are returning to North Carolina for the winter.”

N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission officials said the last documented case of HPAI in the state was in March.

And although it is rare, there have been some cases where direct interaction with infected birds caused human infection, according to wildlife officials.

But there are some things you can do to help protect yourself from HPAI while hunting.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recommends:

  • Refraining from harvesting or handling wild birds that are obviously sick
  • Washing your hands with soap and water after handling game or use an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available
  • Dressing game birds in the field whenever possible, wearing disposable gloves and washing hands afterwards

Taking precautions is key, as wild birds don’t normally show any signs of being infected with HPAI, officials shared.

And health officials urge hunters to see a doctor if they experience flu-like symptoms after having contact with a bird that was possibly infected.

Officials said they want to hear from residents if they observe “morbidity events involving five or more” wild birds.

“We are interested hearing about morbidity events involving five or more waterbirds or waterfowl, any number of raptors or avian scavengers, like vultures, or any of those species that are observed with clinical signs consistent with neurological impairment, like swimming in circles, head tilt and lack of coordination,” stated Sarah Van de Berg, wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Commission.

You can report these events to the NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401, 8 a.m. on 5 p.m., Monday–Friday, or email HWI@ncwildlife.org.