RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Officials are reminding hunters in North Carolina to be careful when “handling wild birds during hunting season” because of avian influenza.

Although no new cases of the highly pathogenic avian influenza have been found in wild birds in North Carolina, officials said it is important 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.”

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission officials said the last documented case of the virus in North Carolina was in March. While it is rare, there have been some cases in which direct interaction with infected birds has resulted in human infection, wildlife officials said.

There are several things hunters can do to protect themselves from the virus, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Refrain from harvesting or handling wild birds that are obviously sick
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after handling wild game, or use an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available
  • Dress game birds in the field whenever possible and wear disposable gloves and wash your hands afterward

Taking precautions is key, as wild birds don’t normally show any signs of being infected with the virus, officials said. Hunters are urged to see a doctor if they experience flu-like symptoms after contact with a bird that was possibly infected.

Input from hunters who observe “morbidity events” among wild birds is also important, officials said.

“We are interested in 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,” said wildlife biologist Sarah Van de Berg.

Information can be reported to the North Carolina Wildlife Helpline between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 866-318-2401 or via email at HWI@ncwildlife.org.