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Highly contagious bird flu confirmed to have jumped species, killing wild foxes in Michigan

Three red fox kits in Michigan have died after being infected by avian influenza.
David Kenyon
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Three red fox kits in Michigan have died after being infected by avian influenza.

Michigan officials have confirmed a deadly viral infection has spread from birds to some wild foxes in the state. The contagious bird flu has resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of birds in North America, either from the flu directly or in culling to prevent its spread.

The state Department of Natural Resources has now confirmed the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has jumped species.

“Some red fox kits that were exhibiting neurological signs of HPAI before they died. And so those came out of Lapeer, Macomb, and St. Clair counties,” said Eric Hilliard with the DNR’s Wildlife Division.

Other cases have been reported in Ontario and Minnesota.

“It’s not very common. Obviously, it can happen. It happened in this particular case. But, the risk is viewed as relatively low still,” Hilliard said

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates the public health risk is low. Still, it recommends not handling sick or dead wild birds or animals.

Officials say if you see dead birds or animals behaving oddly, don’t touch them, but do contact a DNR field officer, or report it here.

The DNR has suggested removing bird feeders from backyards could potentially slow the spread of the viral infection.

If farmers notice problems with poultry flocks, they should report it to the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

This strain of the avian flu is killing wild birds at higher rates than a previous outbreak seven years ago. At this point, Michigan has not been hit as hard as other places. Only 69 wild birds in the state have been confirmed to have been infected.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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