Alberta now has five confirmed cases of bird flu transmitted from birds to mammals.
Five skunks from central Alberta have been confirmed to have bird flu.
“We had an unusually high number of calls about skunks that were acting strange or were found dead and it was all within the area where we confirmed that the bird flu virus was present in snow geese,” said County Dr. Margo Pepos. Wildlife pathologist with Alberta Fish and Wildlife Parks and Environment.
“We think skunks are feeding on dead geese and that they’re getting enough of the viruses that actually affect the skunks.”
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Pybus said it’s uncommon to see bird flu causing illness in mammals, and added that it’s uncertain at this point which species are most at risk.
“(It is) very uncommon, but it’s all uncommon this year. It’s all new in North America. We’re learning about this as we move forward,” Beebus said.
She added that bird flu is one of the viruses that occur naturally in birds, especially in waterfowl.
“As we’ve learned with COVID, viruses are constantly changing and the bird flu virus certainly changes often.”
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Staff and volunteers at the Medicine River Wildlife Center west of Innisville, Alta, were handling five recently brought in sick foxes.
And all five had the same symptoms — blindness, seizures, and cloudy eyes, according to CEO Carol Kelly. She said three of them died and two recovered.
She said bird flu wasn’t even on the radar as a cause until staff started talking to two other wildlife centers.
“We realized we were all dealing with a total of about 15 foxes, and they all had identical symptoms,” Kelly said.
“By the time we got into the third fox, we thought this was a very strange thing. We got an email from a rehabilitation center in Edmonton to say they had just learned that a fox could get this (bird flu) by eating dead birds,” Kelly said. That’s at that point.”
“We’re learning fast because it’s so new.”
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Cases of the fox have yet to be confirmed by any of the Alberta laboratories, which are currently mired in handling poultry infections.
However, one dead fox from the Edmonton area is now being tested.
“The labs are completely focused on trying to deliver results that help control this disease in poultry so it doesn’t spread any further,” Bibus said. “Alberta is one of the provinces most affected by the poultry industry by this virus, so our labs are full of poultry samples at the moment.”
The foxes that survived are cared for at Medicine River Wildlife Center until they regain their health. They were treated with plenty of water and eye drops and are expected to be released this week.
Sick birds were not so lucky.
About 20 birds have died from bird flu at the wildlife center.
According to Pepos, the outbreak in Alberta is believed to be declining due to the natural migration of geese.
We think the outbreak is on the downside. “We had far fewer calls about dead birds or skunks last week than in previous weeks, and that would be consistent with most of the virus now being transmitted from the county,” Bibus said.
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