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Type E Botulism

Description

Type E Botulism is a form of food poisoning infecting animals that ingest another animal contaminated with a toxin produced by the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum. There are several different strains of the bacterium, ranging from A through E, that are characterized by the toxins they produce.

Where it Occurs

The Type E strain primarily occurs in the Great Lakes region. New York first received reports of an outbreak in Lake Erie in 1999.

Animals it Infects

This disease has been and remains responsible for extensive waterfowl and some fish kills, mostly affecting the following species:

  • Waterbirds like gulls, ducks, loons, mergansers, and cormorants that eat fish.
  • Fish like smallmouth bass, rock bass, channel catfish, and lake sturgeon.
  • Mudpuppies (large aquatic salamanders).

Symptoms/Signs

  • Birds cannot hold their head up, which results in waterbirds drowning.
  • Birds, especially gulls, cannot fly and have poor posture, dragging one or both wings while standing.
  • Fish struggle or swim erratically near the surface of the water.
  • Fish usually die quickly and are most likely seen washed up on shore.

What to Do When Finding Dead or Sick Animals

Call a DEC Division of Fish and Wildlife Office.
Contact numbers are located at the bottom of this page. It is important to record the location, type of birds or fish, and number of carcasses found. DEC documents these events and may possibly collect animals that are still alive and are showing symptoms to test for botulism. DEC does not generally take dead animals from an area due to limited resources and because they are not ideal to use for testing.

Submit Your Observations Online.
If you see any injured or dead animals in the Great Lakes consider reporting your observation online at the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative -Wildlife Health Event Reporter (GLRI-WHER) website (link is in right hand column of this page).

Remove and Dispose of Dead Animals
Removing dead birds and fish can help prevent the spread of botulism as the bacteria in the carcasses can serve as a source of outbreaks for several months. The DEC rarely ever removes dead animals from an area; however, we offer advice on how you can safely remove dead birds or fish from the shore.

  • Wear disposable, rubber or plastic gloves, or invert a plastic bag over your hand when handling sick, dead, or dying fish, birds or other animals.
  • Double bag them and dispose of them with your household trash or bury them away from shoreline areas. Bury them deep enough (two feet or more) to discourage other animals from digging them up.

Human and Pet Health

Swimming in Waters Where Affected Wildlife are Found.
There is no risk of becoming infected by botulism when swimming in waters where any affected fish or wildlife is found. If you have concerns about water quality, contact your county health department by visiting the "NYS Department of Health" link in the right hand column of this page, or swim in a regulated beach area.

Bringing Pets to the Shore.
If you bring pets to the shore, keep them away from dead animals on the beach as they may contain potentially harmful bacteria or toxins. If your pet comes in contact with carcass, wash your pet when you return home. Contact your veterinarian if your pet appears sick after a visit to the shore.

Eating Fish or Game from the Great Lakes.
Humans can get Type E Botulism if the toxin is ingested by eating an infected fish or animal. Furthermore, cooking may not destroy the toxin. DEC recommends that you only harvest animals that act and look healthy, and to avoid eating any fish or game that show signs of illness as they may harbor the Type E toxin or other wildlife disease.

General Tips for Preparing Healthy Fish or Game.
Since many wild animals can carry diseases, here are some general safety guidelines for handling and preparing your fish or game:

  • Wear rubber or plastic protective gloves while filleting, field dressing, skinning or butchering.
  • Remove intestines soon after harvest, don't eat intestines and avoid direct contact with intestinal contents.
  • 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 45° F or 7° C) until filleted or butchered and then should be refrigerated or frozen.
  • Healthy fish and other seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature (in the thickest part) of 140° F (60° C); game birds should be cooked to an internal temperature (in the thickest part) of 165° F (74° C).

Check the Fish and Game Health Advisories.
The NYS Department of Health issues advisories on eating sportfish and game as some contain chemicals at levels that may be harmful to your health. For information on these advisories, consult your fishing or hunting regulations guide, visit the NYS Department of Health website (see link at right), or call them at 1-800-458-1158, extension 27815.

More Information

Visit Sea Grant's website (see link at right).

Contact a DEC Division of Fish and Wildlife Regional Office:

  • Allegany: (716) 372-0645
  • Avon: (585) 226-2466
  • Buffalo: (716) 851-7010
  • Cortland: (607) 753-3095
  • Cape Vincent: (315) 654-2147
  • Syracuse: (315) 426-7400
  • Watertown: (315) 785-2263