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Type E Botulism Questions and Answers

Type E Botulism in Lakes Erie and Ontario

What is Type E botulism?

A common bacteria (Clostridium botulinum) produces a toxin under certain conditions, namely the anaerobic (oxygen-free) conditions that occur in dead organisms.

Animals, especially fish-eating birds, ingest the toxin and get sick and die. (In Lake Erie, some types of fish and mudpuppies (a type of salamander) also
have died from eating food containing the toxin.)

What are symptoms that an animal might have botulism?

Birds can't hold their head up (thus water birds often drown).

Birds (especially gulls) can often walk, but not fly - they may drag one or both wings (poor posture) while standing.

Fish may flounder or swim erratically near the surface of the water.

Fish usually die quickly and are most likely to be seen washed up on shore.

ANY fish or waterfowl that seem sick should not be harvested or eaten.

Can I get Type E botulism?

You must ingest the toxin, usually by eating an infected fish or animal. Any fish or waterfowl that are sick or act
abnormally should not be harvested or eaten because cooking may not destroy the Botulism E toxin.

Can I go swimming in water where wildlife affected by botulism have been found?

You're not at risk for botulism by swimming in Lake Erie or Lake Ontario waters.

If you have concerns about water quality, contact your county health department (phone numbers are listed at back of this sheet) or swim in a regulated beach
area. Beaches sometimes close for other reasons (such as fecal contamination).

Can I still take my dog to the beach?

If you bring pets to the shore, keep them away from dead animals on the beach.

Will DEC come and pick up sick or dead animals from my beach?

DEC may collect animals that are still alive, but show symptoms, for testing. Call the DEC's Division of Fish and Wildlife at one of the numbers listed on the back of
this fact sheet.

Can I remove dead fish, birds or other animals from my beach?

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 deeper) to
discourage other animals from digging them up.

You can bury or dispose of fish, birds or other animals you collect from your property only.

Can I fish and hunt on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario?

You should only harvest fish and waterfowl that act and look healthy.

Don't take any fish or game that show signs of illness at the time of taking.

Follow good sanitary practices when preparing them.

How should I prepare HEALTHY fish or game that I harvest?

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).

The New York State Department of Health issues advisories on eating sportfish and game because some of these foods contain chemicals at levels that may be
harmful to your health. For information on those advisories, consult your fishing or hunting regulations guide, call the New York State Department of Health at
1-800-458-1158, extension 27815  

Additional information about botulism  

Questions about Fish and Wildlife, Contact:

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) 785-2261
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