Hunters in Oklahoma are worried that avian pox may have come to the state, and just as hunting season is right around the corner. Pictures of a wild turkey with unsightly lesions across its neck and face surfaced on the internet recently and experts say the symptoms are indicative of avian pox. According to biologist Gene T. Miller, who forwarded the photos to the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), the turkey came from private land near Seminole. The bird was not able to examined by state wildlife officials since it was disposed shortly afterwards. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) also reported another case of possible avian pox late last year, but that bird was not able to be retrieved for testing either.
“Disease happens, but it’s one of those things biologists try to stay on the cusp of,” ODWC information officer Michael Bergin told KFOR. “They try to stay aware, and keep up with what’s going on in the populations.”
Avian pox is a widespread viral disease that is especially prevalent in the Southeastern United States. The disease is transmitted through blood-feeding insects and through direct contact with infected birds. Although it can be fatal, many turkeys often live with the disease for long periods of time, resulting in an emaciated look, lesions, and open sores. The National Wild Turkey Federation says that although avian pox is likely the most common disease in wild turkey, it actually does not pose much of a threat to the overall population. It cannot be passed to humans, and the meat from infected birds is generally edible, although hunters will want to trim out the affected parts and avoid consuming the lungs.
“If you ever harvest a wild turkey that appears to be acting strangely or seems to be ill, keep it cold, not frozen, and get it to your state wildlife agency for examination,” James Earl Kennamer, former chief conservation officer for the NWTF, wrote on its website.
That is also the opinion of Miller, who urges hunters and landowners to place diseased birds on ice and to bring them to officials.
Avian pox should not also be confused with avian flu, a disease that causes widespread mortality in farm-raised turkeys and other birds.