Preventing animal spread diseases in Alaska

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) Some of the most common Alaska based infectious diseases are passed on from Alaskan wildlife.

Rabbits are a common carrier of Tularemia (Carly Sjordal/KTVF)

Part of avoiding and preparation for possible diseases and ingestion of toxic substances includes about how the diseases are spread.

Most of the common diseases like Tularemia and Brucellosis can be contacted by improperly cooked meats, or handling contaminated carcasses or water.

Associate Professor of Veterinary Medicine at University of Alaska Fairbanks, Karsten Hueffer, says rabies can also be a worry for hunters and others who come into contact with wild Alaskan animals.

"Rabies is a classic example where we have a disease in dogs and or wildlife that threatens the health and life of people,” said Hueffer.

Toxins such as paralytic shellfish poisoning and mercury can be found commonly in clams and fish in Alaska, but Hueffer says that the benefits of eating local fish outweigh the negatives: "There's tension between the benefits from a subsistence diet versus contaminants that threaten the health of that diet, but overall it's still a positive net effect on people that eat fish for example. But that's another example of where the fish and caribou and whales and whatever we eat is really closely tied to our health as humans."

To help lower the chances of animal based infections or toxic encounters, the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health recommends that all livestock is properly vaccinated, butchering tools are cleaned with bleach and water, and that hunters should wear gloves and carefully examine animal carcasses for abnormalities before coming in contact with them.

Hueffer says that it’s also best to eat animals that haven't encountered many contaminants in their lives. "Try to eat a little bit younger animals, because the levels in general increase over time... and try to eat animals that are lower on the food chain that are not eating fish that eat fish that eat fish. With every step the levels often increase,” said Hueffer.

Finally it’s suggested that the meat is cooked properly and thoroughly to eliminate any harmful bacteria -- with a reminder that smoking, salting, fermenting or drying meat are not always reliable methods for killing parasites.

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