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Feral Hog Hunters Cautioned about Swine Brucellosis

October 01, 2009

The feral hog (Sus scrofa) in Alabama is a non-native species that was brought to the Southeast centuries ago by Spanish explorers. Though popularity with hunters is increasing, current feral hog populations across Alabama and the Southeast are growing at alarming rates. The presence of feral hogs also brings with it the chance of contracting illnesses such as swine brucellosis, an infectious disease of pigs. Since the feral hog is a common hunted species in Alabama, Conservation officials are warning hunters about a potential danger associated with field dressing the animal.

Swine brucellosis is caused by the bacterium Brucella suis. Humans can get swine brucellosis through handling infected tissues of wild pigs. Brucellosis bacteria is found in bodily fluids, concentrating in reproductive organs and milk. The bacteria can enter the human body through cuts, nicks, abrasions or other breaks in the skin.

Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley says all hunters who field dress hogs should wear gloves. “Heavy rubber gloves are preferred in case of nicks from a knife. After field dressing the hog, hands should be washed with soap and hot water. Swine brucellosis does not affect the edibility of the meat. As with all pork, it should be thoroughly cooked,” he said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160° Fahrenheit.

Alabama Wildlife Chief Gary Moody says swine brucellosis is found throughout the Southeastern United States. “As we have been saying for years, hunters should be aware of the potential threat and use common sense safety precautions,” he said.

In 2007, eight Florida hunters were diagnosed with swine brucellosis, and a Texas hunter recently contracted the disease when he did not wear gloves while cleaning a hog.

Because swine brucellosis can have a long incubation time, immediate symptoms may not be present. Although few humans die of infection, the disease is often chronic and debilitating.

This was the case for the hunter in Tomball, TX, who did not feel symptoms until two months after field dressing a feral hog. As reported in the Houston Chronicle, his symptoms included a fever, chills, sweating and severe joint pain. It took doctors several days to diagnose swine brucellosis, which they treated with massive intravenous doses of antibiotics. Later, the brucellosis triggered an infection on his spine, and his prognosis remains unclear.

“Landowners and hunters should not let the threat of swine brucellosis keep them from killing feral hogs,” said Lawley. “Alabama’s feral hog population continues to grow, so it needs to be brought under control. We just want to caution hunters that even though contraction of swine brucellosis is unlikely, preventive measures should be standard for those handling hogs.”

The potential threat to human health is a very important reason hogs should not be released in the state. In addition, transporting live feral hogs from one property to another is illegal in Alabama. Feral hogs are a threat to wildlife because they compete for food sources, destruct wildlife openings and habitat, and destroy nests. “Unfortunately, wild hog populations continue to expand and the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries continues to receive more complaints about them from landowners,” Moody said.

If a hunter develops symptoms, remember to tell doctors about any contact with feral hogs. Although feral hogs are probably here to stay, using safety measures after harvesting will significantly reduce the risk of contracting swine brucellosis.

“By no means are we trying to discourage hog hunting,” said Lawley. “We just want to make hunters aware of common sense precautions for their harvest.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

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