What Infections are Hunters at Risk for?

hunting dog. Getty

A lot of human diseases come from other animals. Anything from Rabies to Tularemia can infect us from contact with animal. Hunting can bring us in close contact with animals and hence expose us to some of these diseases.

Direct contact with animals during hunting can lead to infections. Preparing game, and eating undercooked meat can expose people to some of these diseases. Others acquire infections from spending time out in wooded or grassy areas looking for game.

They may drink dirty water or be bit by ticks or larger animals that spread diseases. They - or their dogs - may bring back ticks that spread these infections at home.

A wide range of diseases can come from hunting - anything from Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to Babesia and Giardia to Brucellosis and ...even Ebola in Africa.

Some Tips to avoid infections from direct contact

Following guidelines from the CDC

  • Don't eat or handle a sick animal. This can mean animals that simply look sick or acted strangely. An easy catch is not a good catch if the animal is sick and maybe contagious. Hunters should report any sick wildlife to fish and game agency.
  • Don't eat parts of meat that look infected or if the meat seemsoff. Discard any parts of meat - or the entire batch of meat, if there's any concern.
  • Avoid touching dead animals as much as possible. Avoid bare skin contact with any fluid or organ of any animal. Be very careful to avoid touching any brain or spinal tissues.
  • Gloves and glasses/goggles can keep fluids from contaminating you (and not splash into your eyes) when butchering.  Use gloves when handling carcasses.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, dry hands with a clean cloth
  • Clean tools, cutting boards, and utensils before any reuse. Use a disinfectant, like dilute bleach.
  • Store any meat by freezing or refrigerating. Meat should not sit around.
  • Cook the meat at a high temperature. Do not eat raw meat. Simply preparing meat - freezing, smoking, pickling, or drying meat - is not enough. These forms of meat preparation do not prevent disease; hot temperatures generally do.
  • Dispose of any unused meat. Burn or bury any carcasses that won't be used
  • Keep meat from dripping on any other food
  • Avoid feeding raw meat, carcasses, or bones to pets

Some diseases come from ticks or mosquito bites. 

These illnesses include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis/Erlichiosis. Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Babesia. Some of these diseases can be quite serious.

Advice: Use DEET mosquito repellants and wear long sleeves and long pants.

Some diseases come from the environment

Other diseases can come from contact with or drinking contaminated water. This may be from drinking fresh water that is contaminated by Giardia. Others are infected by direct contact with animal stool or urine.

 Wading into contaminated water or a swamp, even mud or soggy areas could lead to infections in dogs and humans (like leptospirosis caused by contact with water contaminated by rat or other animal urine). Some animal waste is particularly dangerous. For instance, raccoon roundworm, which does not bother raccoons, can cause a severe infection (Baylisascaris procyonis).

Advice: Drink safe water only. Avoid any contact with animal waste. Avoid wading through water as much as possible.

Infections can also be brought home by dogs

Dogs when they accompany hunters can acquire infections - and even bring them home. They may drink water contaminated by Giardia (though most human cases don't come from dogs) and bring a diarrheal illness back home. They may carry home ticks that cause Lyme disease. They may, in very rare cases, become bit and bring home Rabies. They may also develop Echinococcosis, by ingesting a Tapeworm that can cause serious liver infections in humans.

Advice: Watch out for the dogs. Have them vaccinated for rabies. Check them for ticks. Watch if they develop any illnesses.

There is one disease that deserves special mention:


Brucella is a bacterial infection that, though rare, can be a serious infection that can quietly develop weeks to months after exposure. Such exposures can come from preparing wild game. This bacteria can cause a syndrome of fever, chills, loss of appetite, fatigue, and pains that can be difficult to diagnose. This can lead to serious heart problems. Treatment requires long term antibiotics antibiotics.

The infection usually comes from wild hogs. There is also risk from hunting bison, elk, caribou, reindeer, moose. It can also be found in predators that eat these animals - wolves and bears.

The bacteria can spread if any uncooked blood, fluid, or other tissues come in contact with mucus membranes (mouth, eyes, nose) or a cut in the skin. This can be prevented by safe field dressing, butchering, and fully cooking meat. Using gloves, goggles, and safe techniques can really matter.

Transmission can also occur through a number of ways that might affect those who are hunters - or others.

Eating or drinking

  • unpasteurized dairy products
  • undercooked meat (hunters eating wild game especially)

Inhaling bacteria  

  • in a microbiology lab (lab workers) 
  • in meat preparation (hunters, workers in a slaughterhouse or meatpacking businesses)

Through cuts in the skin or mucus membranes 

  • in meat preparation (hunters, slaughterhouse or meatpacking work)
  • through assisting with an infected animal's birth (farmers, veterinarians)

Person-to-person Brucellosis spread is very rare.

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