On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness news for all Oklahomans.

Oklahoma Deer Hunters: Protect Yourself!

Few activities might seem as "Oklahoman" as hunting (although supporting the Thunder, picking a side in the perennial OU/OSU football rivalry and going to the lake on summer weekends all spring to mind). Regardless, hunting is undeniably popular in Oklahoma, especially deer hunting. According to the Department of Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation, 89,000 deer were harvested in Oklahoma in the 2015 season. This week kicked off the start of the 2016 deer season (along with elk, turkey, antelope and bear). But did you know hunting deer and other animals may put hunters at risk for a severe illness?

This infectious bacterial disease is called brucellosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people can get the disease when they are in contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products. You can get sick if blood, fluid or tissue from an infected animal comes in contact with your eyes, nose, mouth or skin. Hunters of certain kinds of wild animals, including deer, may have an increased risk of brucellosis because they come into contact with the blood and organs of the animals they are hunting when field dressing, butchering, handling raw meat for cooking or eating meat that is not thoroughly cooked.

When an animal gets infected with the bacteria that causes brucellosis, it can carry the bacteria for life and pass the disease on to other animals and humans. It is possible for animals that appear healthy to have brucellosis.

If you are infected, it may take anywhere from a week to a month after contact for you to start feeling sick. If the illness is not treated or comes back, you could have serious problems in your bones, joints or heart. In rare instances, brucellosis can be deadly. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Low Appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Joint Pain
  • Muscle Pain
Animals that are hunted that may carry the disease include:
  • Deer
  • Elk
  • Wild boar
  • Wild hogs
  • Bison
  • Caribou/reindeer
  • Moose
In addition, predators such as bears and wolves may get brucellosis after they feed on infected animals. Dogs that are used for hunting can also be at risk for brucellosis.

Protect Yourself from Brucellosis

Hunters should avoid all contact with visibly ill animals or those found dead. Because even animals that seem healthy can have brucellosis,  it's important to use safe field dressing techniques. Here are CDC recommendations:
  • Use clean, sharp knives for field dressing and butchering.
  • Wear eye protection and rubber gloves when handling carcasses.
  • Avoid bare skin contact with fluid or organs from the animal.
  • Avoid bare skin contact with hunting dogs that may have come into contact with hunted animals.
  • After butchering, burn or bury parts of the carcass that will not be eaten.
  • Don't feed dogs with raw meat or other parts of the carcass.
  • Wash hands as soon as possible with soap and warm water.
  • Clean all tools and reusable gloves with a disinfectant.
  • Thoroughly cook meat from any animal that is known to be a possible carrier of brucellosis.
  • Be aware that freezing, smoking, drying and pickling do not kill the bacteria that cause brucellosis.

What To Do if You Experience Symptoms

First, it's important to see a doctor right away if experience any symptoms. Your doctor can test your blood for brucellosis. If the test confirms brucellosis, your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics, which will need to be taken for six weeks or longer. Brucellosis is not usually fatal, but it can happen, so be sure to take all of the antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor. This will help prevent the illness from coming back.