A ProMED-mail post
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International Society for Infectious Diseases <http://www.isid.org>

Date: Tue 3 Jan 2012
Source: Herald News [edited]

Helene Van Doninck, a veterinarian who operates the Cobequid Rehabilitation Centre [Brookfield, NS, Canada], a charitable organization that provides care to sick, injured and orphaned wildlife, said she sees cases of lead poisoning in eagles and other birds every year.

In December [2011], she treated 2 eagles that eventually died. "Every eagle we've had has had some levels of lead," she said. "You can talk to people all across the continent (who work with wildlife), and every year they see this. ... If I get an eagle in that's not broken in some obvious way -- wing or leg -- lead is my 1st suspicion."

Van Doninck said the trouble is that much of the ammunition hunters use contains lead. It enters animals' systems when they eat shell casings or parts of animals that contain lead fragments.

As a soft metal, lead breaks down quickly inside an eagle, passing into the blood system. The neurotoxin affects the bird's brain, nervous system, digestive system, respiratory system, and blood system.

"Usually, they look quite stunned," said Van Doninck. "You could walk up to it and touch it, and it might (react), but usually they have their heads down, their wings drooped, and they're just stoned, basically."

It isn't always a death sentence. If levels aren't too high and the birds can be treated early, there are drugs that can help them recover. Van Doninck and her volunteers have managed to treat and release 2 or 3 eagles that were poisoned. But she said a much easier solution would be prevention. This is why she hopes that through more awareness, hunters and anglers might consider switching to materials that don't contain lead. She would like to meet with groups and offer presentations on the subject.

Noting the size and sway of the 2 communities, it's Van Doninck's hope that change might happen if they get involved. "If they tell manufacturers of ammunition that they don't want to use lead anymore, then they're going to scramble to make more non-lead (products), and they're going to make it affordable," she said.

Beyond the effect lead can have on wildlife, there are also considerations for humans. Information in the Natural Resources Department's 2011 hunting regulations notes that "lead bullet fragments in game meat are a possible health risk to anyone who may consume wild meat. It has recently been learned that modern high-velocity lead ammunition often fragments on impact with a large animal, sending very small shards of lead into the meat and organs up to 46 centimetres [18 inches] from the visible bullet path."

The regulations suggest hunters consider alternatives such as copper ammunition, controlled expansion bullets, and heavier and slower-velocity ammunition.

"Lead particles are often extremely small and cannot be detected by sight, touch (when chewing the meat) or taste," read the regulations.
"Although there is no conclusive evidence linking lead fragmentation in large game animals to lead poisoning in humans, this does not mean there is no risk."

People hunting waterfowl or snipe or within National Wildlife Areas must already use non-toxic shot such as steel. Van Doninck said this change was largely made because lead was finding its way into water systems and because ducks that weren't found after a kill would poison other animals that would find them and eat them.

She's hoping hunters of all types will consider making a similar switch.

[Byline: Michael Gorman]

Communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap alerts

[Data from numerous experiments under controlled conditions and extensive investigation of waterfowl mortality attest to the fact that exposure to lead gunshot is detrimental to individuals and populations of wild birds.

Aquatic environments subject to intense hunting and/or fishing activity have been identified as high-risk areas, because hundreds of lead pellets or fishing weights are introduced each season.

The most frequent mode of exposure for waterfowl is through accidental ingestion of lead pellets that they confuse for seeds or grit. Once ingested, lead can become a complex ecosystem problem, as it can be transferred to waterfowl predators or scavengers. Also, under certain circumstances, lead pellets can be dissolved and introduced as salts into the abiotic components. This happens at a higher rate within birds that ingest lead pellets, as lead is digested and absorbed in their digestive systems and then concentrated in their tissues (mainly bone and liver).

In areas of heavy hunting, the lead concentration in tissues of apparently healthy waterfowl may be very high, and this dissolved lead is then transferred to predators, scavengers, people who eat hunted birds, or to the soil and water.

The information available to date is enough justification for implementing mitigation efforts and banning policies worldwide. - Mod.PMB]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:

[see also:
Lead poisoning, avian - USA: (WA) trumpeter swan 20110204.0405] .................................................sb/pmb/msp/mpp/ll
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