Somerside, Prince Edward Island – The fox population found in Augustine Cove is suspected to be the first mammal to have contracted bird flu in Prince Edward Island.
The test result was an initial positive, which must be confirmed by another test at the National Center for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg.
If confirmed, Dr. Megan Jones, associate professor of wildlife and anatomical pathology at Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) and regional director of the Canadian Society of Wildlife Health, said it would be the first case of bird flu in a mammal on the island.
“We tested some other mammals, and they came back negative, just to put it on our radar,” she said. “Since the virus came out, we’ve done more testing on it, in general, just to track where it’s going and what it’s doing.”
Southwest Lot 16 resident Candy Gallant, operator of PEI Wildlife Rescue and Reareness Inc., has been informed. , about groups of sick foxes on Sunday, May 15.
At first, Gallant suspected that the foxes had consumed either rat poison or antifreeze, due to symptoms – primarily seizures.
Unable to get the animals on her own, Galant asks her boyfriend, Kira Dechen, to go and inspect the foxes’ groups.
“It’s very sad…when children are young it is always worse.” – Kira Dechen
When Dechen arrived at Augustine Cove, she noticed one group of fox lying on the ground convulsing and another lethargic group writhing in a tight ball.
She tends to kit her jerky, first, and put her in a carrier, before moving on to her brother.
“There was nothing to notice, outside of his behavior (being) weird,” Dechen said. “There was no discharge or diarrhea … normal things you would have expected to see if it was some kind of disease.”
Dechen planned to put the second fox in a tanker as well, but ended up carrying it while she was ferrying the foxes to Galant’s house. Halfway through the flight, the second fox also started convulsing.
It’s very sad,” said Dechen, who considers herself an animal lover. “When kids are young, it’s always worse.”
Arriving at Galant’s house, the two foxes were mercifully killed.
“It was horrible,” Gallant said. “I’ve never seen any wild animals suffer such severe seizures before.”
Gallant noted that the foxes, while still alive, had been seizing her so badly that she suspected she was even aware that she had been captured and moved.
“I think they were in a coma, basically. Which is probably a blessing, because it was really horrible.” “I’ll probably see it on my mind for a long time.”
From birds to mammals
Other foxes in the litter, which also showed signs of illness, were brought to the AVC. There, they were euthanized and a laboratory test was performed to determine the cause of the disease.
As of May 24, results for one of the three foxes are out, showing an initial positive for bird flu.
“With bird flu, it’s a major outbreak happening now,” Jones said, noting the number of cases across Canada and the United States since December 2021.
So far, Jones said, in Prince Edward Island, the only confirmed cases of the virus have been in birds, and in the past month, there have been cases of bird flu in foxes in Ontario and several US states.
“It’s something we already have on our radar,” Jones said.
She added that it is possible that the virus was spread to the fox by eating a dead or sick bird carrying the disease. It added that it was not likely to spread from mammals to mammals.
When an animal is infected with bird flu, the disease travels to the brain and damages brain cells and causes signs such as seizures, tingling, imbalance or lethargy.
If anyone sees an animal showing these symptoms, Jones advises them to contact the Prince Edward Island Department of Fish and Wildlife, rather than treating the animal themselves—particularly since these symptoms are similar to signs of mammalian rabies.
“This virus can affect people,” Jones said. “We always recommend that you do not handle any sick birds directly or any mammals that are sick directly either.”
Knowing that at least one of the foxes might have had bird flu is “scary” for Galant, who had two companions in her house.
“I had no foul water in my house. Any adult birds that come infected don’t come to my house, they stay in isolation because of bird flu,” Galant said. This is where I looked at them. So I brought bird flu into my house without bringing a bird. “
However, these two foxes have been burned and cannot be tested for bird flu, like their siblings.
“But I’m kind of assuming that whatever killed the first two killed the two who went to Atlantic Feet,” Gallant said.
This experience, while “horrific” for Galant, made her exercise more caution with every animal that came into her care.
“When Kira brought me the two foxes that were dying from seizures, they were in my kitchen. This is where I looked at them. So I brought bird flu into my house without bringing a bird.” – Candy Galant
She also noted that the rest of her colleagues, as of Friday, May 20, appeared to be in good health, and Gallant hopes they are not just asymptomatic.
“I hope this is a one-off and we won’t hear it anymore,” she said. “We have a lot of problems with scabies in foxes on the island, and many of the dead got hit by cars. I love our wildlife here on the island.”
Kristen Gardiner is a reporter for the Salt Wire Network in Prince Edward Island. Tweet embed