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Three fox kits died from the avian flu in Michigan, officials announced Thursday, as the virus that has plagued bird flocks worldwide in recent months continues to be found in wild animals.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reports that three kits died from highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) between April 1 and April 14 in the eastern portion of the state, with one being detected in Macomb county – near Detroit.
Another infected fox was detected and Macomb as well – confirmed to be a sibling of the one that died – survived but developed blindness, and will be unable to return to the wild.
This report comes a day after Minnesota officials announced a fox kit in their state had died of the virus as well, the first such incident in a U.S. wild animal.
The virus has rampantly spread across the world’s poultry population in recent months, leading to thousands of birds being culled and creating supply chain issues for poultry products.
Three fox kits in Michigan died after being infected with the avian flu. How they caught the virus can not yet be confirmed by officials (file photo)
The DNR received a report that a wildlife rehabilitation center in the southeastern region of that state had observed three fox kits showing neurological signs of HPAI.
Symptoms included tremoring, circling and seizing. Within hours of intake at the facility, two of the foxes had died. The third showed promising signs of recovery at the start of treatment, but also succumbed.
All three foxes tested ‘non-negative’ for the virus. This now marks four confirmed fox kit deaths from the avian virus in North America, joining the one death in Minnesota. Officials in Ontario, Canada, previously reported a death of a fox from the virus as well.
A case was detected in the fox in the Netherlands last year as well.
The virus has rampaged across the continent in recent months, causing large scale culls of birds and disrupting the poultry supply chain.
‘Highly pathogenic avian influenza is a virus known to affect birds throughout North America, with detections in backyard flocks and commercial poultry facilities, to date, in 34 states and detections in wild birds in 35 states,’ Eric Hilliard, of the DNR Wildlife Division, said in a statement.
‘HPAI is highly contagious and poultry are especially vulnerable. In addition, this viral strain also affects waterfowl, raptors and scavengers like turkey vultures, eagles and crows.’
Hilliard says that he is currently unsure as to how these foxes became infected with the virus.
Officials in Minnesota speculate that the fox that died in their state likely contracted the virus when it are a wild bird that was infected.
A majority of detected cases of the virus have been found in wild birds, but it can easily transfer to domesticated poultry as well.
Transmission to humans is rare, but is possible as well. Last month, a Colorado prisoner tested positive for the virus, becoming the first infected person during this surge.
The avian flu has rampaged across the global poultry population in recent months, causing the needed culling of thousands of birds and disrupting global supply chains (file photo)
A human can catch the virus through contact with an infected bird. If the bird were to peck or scratch them, it could potentially lead to transmission.
The virus is killed when poultry is properly cooked, so unlike foxes, humans do not have to worry about catching the virus from eating an infected bird.
Human-to-human transmission of this version of the virus is not believed to be possible.
Still, though, officials warn people to remain on the lookout, as the constant transmission of the virus across species opens the door for mutations that could eventually lead to a human outbreak.
‘Highly pathogenic avian influenza primarily affects birds, but it is important to remember that it can be a zoonotic disease, which means that it has the potential to be transmitted from domestic or wild animals to humans,’ Hilliard said.
‘Now, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the public health risk associated with HPAI remains low, but they do advise people to avoid handling any sick or dead wild birds.’