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Q & A
Avian Botulism
Question
I've read some stories about dead fish on the Lake Erie shore and avian botulism. Please give me some more information about this topic.
Answer
Starting in the summer of 1999, unusual numbers of dead fish and dead birds have been observed along parts of the Lake Erie shoreline. In summer 2002, dead mudpuppies, an aquatic salamander, and sheepshead have washed up along the Lake Erie shore. In addition, some dead birds have been observed.

It appears that Type E botulism (Clostridium botultnum) is a cause of the death of many of these fish. There have been no reports of any human illness associated with past outbreaks.

Type E botulism is a specific botulism strain most commonly affecting fish-eating birds. It is a paralytic, often fatal disease in animals that results from the ingestion of the toxin produced by the botulism bacteria. This type of botulism can be harmful to humans and other mammals if they consume birds or fish that have been poisoned by the toxin or the flesh of an infected animals.

Anglers should not harvest or take any fish that are sick, dying or acting abnormally. Cooking may not always destroy the botulism toxin. Do not handle dead or dying fish or birds. If you must handle them, use gloves. Play it safe; never eat a fish or waterfowl that you have found dead or dying.

Do not eat undercooked or improperly prepared fish. Wear rubber or plastic protective gloves while filleting, field dressing, or skinning. Hands, utensils and work surfaces should be washed before and after handling any raw food including fish and game meat. Fish and game should be kept cool (with ice or refrigerated below 45ºF or 7ºC) until filleted or butchered and then should be refrigerated or frozen. Fish and other seafood should be thoroughly cooked.

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