West Nile virus widespread in turkey range

by Jeff Helsdon | May 13, 2021
Grouse sitting on a rock

West Nile virus (WNV) is widespread across Ontario and Quebec’s wild turkey range.

That’s one initial discovery from an ongoing study led by University of Guelph’s Dr. Amanda MacDonald. With the help of participating hunters, her three-year study has collected blood samples, predominantly from harvested wild turkeys and ruffed grouse, to determine the prevalence of WNV in both birds in Ontario and Quebec.

The latest results from 2019-20 grouse samples show four birds positive for WNV in Ontario and one in Quebec. Another 21 birds in Ontario and 23 in Quebec tested positive for flavivirus (the genus of viruses that WNV belongs to).

MacDonald said it’s too early to draw conclusions, noting other factors might also be at play. For instance, the virus might not be in areas grouse were collected from or grouse exposed to the virus might have died before hunters had a chance to harvest them.

Birds surviving

Though more data is to come, MacDonald’s biggest surprise has been the number of turkeys exposed to WNV. She said the birds “don’t seem to be susceptible to a high mortality or morbidity from the virus. This also shows the virus is fairly widespread — at least where turkeys are located.”

West Nile virus is a disease spread by mosquitoes, predominantly to humans, horses, and birds. Symptoms in humans include fever, head and body aches, mild rashes, and swollen lymph glands.

There is currently no evidence of human infection of WNV due to consumption of properly cooked game meat. MacDonald advises hunters who have cuts or open sores on their hands to wear gloves when field dressing birds if they are in an area where WNV is known to occur.

Grouse that tested positive for flavivirus were likely also exposed to WNV. So, in total, 10.3% (49 out of 473) of the birds sampled had WNV during that study year, a lower percentage than in past years.

To submit a wild turkey blood sample, hunters can request a kit prior to the season by email: dr.amandamariemacdonald@gmail.com

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  1. Roger wrote: Just wondering if there have been any turkeys around Kingston Ontario and area that have been detected with the West Nile virus
  2. COLIN M COYLE wrote: Knowledge is useful