Wildlife Associated Diseases and Health Monitoring

Wildlife resources are under constant change due to human population growth, introduction of invasive species, and habitat loss and degradation. These factors can contribute to the emergence of infectious diseases. Wildlife species are subject to diseases resulting from exposure to bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, and other biological and physical agents. Wildlife species can be natural hosts for diseases that affect humans. The diseases which are directly transmitted from animals to humans are referred to as zoonotic diseases. Diseases transmitted from animals to human via vectors (usually through insect bites) are referred to as vector-borne diseases. The Department investigates significant wildlife disease and mortality events.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Type 2 (RHDV)

On April 1, 2020 Department personnel recovered a jackrabbit and a cottontail from two locations in southwestern Arizona. Samples were collected from the specimens and sent to the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory where RHDV-2 was confirmed.

RHDV only affects rabbits. If you find a carcass, use disposable gloves or a shovel to handle or move the carcass. Carcasses should be deeply buried (>18 inches), burned or double bagged and sent to the landfill. Rabbits are susceptible to other natural causes of mortality such as tularemia or plague, so wash hands and equipment thoroughly after handling animals.

Hunters should not be concerned, but should dispose of inedible portions by burying or in landfill. Trappers should not use rabbits for bait. Care should be taken to prevent domestic rabbits from coming into contact with wild rabbits.

Within Arizona, RHDV-2 has been identified in Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Pima, Apache, Navajo, and Coconino counties. We are continuing to investigate rabbit mortalities in new areas and ask that reports be made to the Wildlife Health Program (ajusticeallen@azgfd.gov) and Radio Room (623-236-7201).

To report dead wildlife

The public can report their observations of recently dead wildlife by calling the Wildlife Disease Hotline at 877-972-8426. Wildlife health personnel will respond Monday through Friday during normal business hours. You can leave a message if it is before or after business hours. Fresh samples are required for testing. A recently dead small animal or bird may be collected by wearing gloves, double bagged, and frozen. If you have a wildlife related emergency, please call our 24 hour dispatch center at (623) 236-7201. If the animal you are calling about has been shot and you are reporting possible illegal activity, call Operation Game Thief 800-352-0700.

For sick or injured wildlife contact a wildlife rehabilitator, leave baby wildlife alone

Virus affects Eurasian collared doves

Almost every year, a virus that affects Eurasian collared doves resurfaces in Arizona. The virus does not threaten human health and affects only this non-native dove species. As a result, you may find dead Eurasian doves on your property. Please dispose of them by wrapping them and putting them in the trash. Do not bury them.

To help stop the virus from spreading, please clean your bird feeder and bird bath regularly.

Health and Disease Programs at AZGFD

Diseases of Concern in Arizona


Anne Justice-Allen, DVM, Department Veterinarian
623 236-7351 ajusticeallen@azgfd.gov

Katie Schwartz, DVM, Assistant Veterinarian
623 236-7227 kschwartz@azgfd.gov 

Precautions to Reduce Disease Exposure

precautions to reduce disease exposure

Some general precautions should be taken to reduce risks of exposure to diseases carried by wildlife. Approaching or handling wild animals, especially those that look sick or behave abnormally is not recommended. Procedures for basic personal hygiene should be practiced and processing equipment should be kept clean. Some important precautions to remember are as follows:

  • Wear protective clothing, particularly reusable rubber or disposable latex gloves, when dissecting or skinning wild animals.
  • Work area, knives, other tools, and reusable gloves should be cleaned with a disinfectant soap, or a detergent followed by diluted household bleach.
  • Touching your face, eating, drinking, or smoking while handling animals should be avoided.
  • Hands should be thoroughly washed after any handling any wildlife. Alcohol sanitizer is only effective if hands are not soiled. While in the field, use of moist towelettes, followed by hand sanitizer can be used to simulate hand washing.
  • Carcasses and tissues as well as any contaminated disposable items such as latex gloves should be disposed of by sealing in a durable plastic bag and taken to a landfill in the animal carcass designated area. If the animal is found in a wild area (such as BLM, National Forest Service), then burying deeply, to prevent scavenging by animals is another viable option.
  • Animals that appeared ill, found dead with unknown cause of death, or with abnormalities in the flesh should not be consumed.
  • Game meat should be cooked thoroughly.
  • A mosquito or tick repellent (i.e. DEET or picardin), wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants with the cuffs into socks should be used in areas where ticks and mosquitos occur.
  • Ticks should be removed immediately with tweezers. Grasp ticks as close to the skin as possible and pull the head of the tick loose with a slow, steady motion.
  • Sleeping directly on the ground is not recommended.
  • All pets should be kept under close supervision, and preferably on a leash.
  • All pets should be vaccinated for rabies by a licensed veterinarian.
  • A physician should be contacted if you become sick, especially with flu-like symptoms, following exposure to a wild animal or ectoparasite (i.e. tick, flea, or mosquito). The physician should be informed of any risk of exposure to zoonotic or vector-borne diseases.

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