Baby fox tests positive for BIRD FLU in Minnesota, officials reveal

Baby fox in Minneapolis tests positive for BIRD FLU – first case of devastating avian flu detected in wild mammal in the US

  • State health officials said the baby fox was living wild and brought in for swabbing from Anoka County next to the capital Minneapolis
  • It is believed to be the first confirmed bird flu infection in a fox in America
  • It is also thought to be the third globally after two cases were spotted in Canada
  • Strain of the ‘highly pathogenic avian influenza’ was not revealed by officials
  • Last month a prison inmate in Colorado tested positive for a bird flu strain
  • A man who kept poultry in Britain also tested positive for a strain this December 

A baby fox has tested positive for bird flu H5N1 in Minnesota, officials have revealed, in what is thought to be the first case in a wild mammal detected in America.

The State’s Department of Natural Resources said the kit was taken in by a member of the public in Anoka County, near Minneapolis, but later died in their care.

It was unclear whether the kit had caught the bird flu in the wild, or rather from eating chickens at poultry farms facing an outbreak of the virus.

The case is believed to be the first confirmed bird flu infection in a mammal in America, and the third in a fox globally after two cases were detected in Ontario, Canada, last week.

It underlines the risk of bird flu — which has led to 24million chickens and turkeys being culled this year — spreading to other mammals including humans.

Last month a prison inmate in Colorado tested positive for bird flu strain H5 after helping to euthanize an infected flock on a poultry farm.

The individual was isolated with ‘very mild’ symptoms, and is thought to have since made a full recovery.

SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that triggers Covid — may have initially jumped to humans from an animal species such as bats, although some theories suggest it was leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China.

A baby fox has tested positive for bird flu in Minnesota. State officials said the animal was wild and lived in Anoka County, near the capital Minneapolis. (Stock image: There is no suggestion that the foxes pictured above have tested positive for bird flu)

Dr Joni Scheftel, a state veterinarian in Minnesota, said Wednesday: ‘Wild animals can sometimes transmit diseases to humans.

‘While we typically think of rabies or other well-known diseases as the primary concerns, this shows that there are other risks to keep in mind as well.

‘The best advice we have for Minnesotans is to avoid contact with wildlife that appears to be sick or injured and contact your healthcare provider if you are bitten or have close contact with wildlife.’

The state said it would now start testing all sick animals for bird flu alongside the typical diseases, such as rabies and canine distemper.

Minnesota has detected nearly 200 wild bird cases of bird flu to date in 19 species, primarily waterfowls and raptors.

It did not say why the baby fox was being tested for the virus.

Bird flu sparked concern in the late 2000s after it emerged that more than 60 percent of people who caught the virus died.

But scientists say a mutation has recently occurred in the virus which now makes it less dangerous to humans.

The U.S. confirmed its first case of human bird flu in a man in Coloradao last month, which was also the second case in the world.

The only symptom reported was ‘fatigue for a few days’.

Colorado’s Department of Agriculture said the man — who has not been named — tested negative on repeat swabbing.

But himself and nine others he worked with were all isolated as a precaution for fear of the virus being spread.

The first case of bird flu was detected in the UK in December 2021, in a man who was asymptomatic and shared his house with poultry.

The individual recovered after only a mild illness but his poultry had to be put down.

This year’s bird flu outbreak is one of the worst on record with the strain able to infect all birds including chickens, ducks and even zoo animals.

Several American zoos have had to put their ostriches and even penguins on lockdown due to the disease — refusing them access to the outdoors for fear of them catching the virus.

Bird flu is spread by close contact or the droppings of migrating waterfowl – like geese, ducks and shorebirds – and is more often more likely to infect free-range chickens and indoor caged birds.

In 2015, the US had another bird flu epidemic that wiped out about 50 million chickens, costing the industry billions.

A virus that kills up to 50% of humans… but transmission is rare: Everything you need to know about bird flu 

What is bird flu?

Bird flu, or avian flu, is an infectious type of influenza that spreads among bird species but can, on rare occasions, jump to human beings.

Like human influenza there are many strains of bird flu:

The current outbreak in birds in the UK is H5N1, the strain that the infected Briton has. 

Where has it been spotted in the UK?

There are currently 96 cases of avian influenza H5N1 in England. There are also two cases in Wales and two cases in Scotland.

How deadly is the virus?

Fatality rates for bird flu in humans have been estimated to be as high as 50 per cent. 

But because transmission to humans is so rare, around 500 bird flu deaths have been reported to the World Health Organization since 1997. 

Is it transmissible from birds to humans?

Cases of bird-to-human transmission are rare and usually do not spread on human-to-human.

Bird flu is spread by close contact with an infected bird or the body of one. 

This can include:

  • touching infected birds
  • touching droppings or bedding
  • killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking

Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, said: ‘Transfer of avian flu to people is rare as it requires direct contact between an infected, usually dead, bird and the individual concerned. 

‘It is a risk for the handlers who are charged with the disposal of carcasses after an outbreak but the virus does not spread generally and poses little threat. 

‘It does not behave like the seasonal flu we are used to.

‘Despite the current heightened concern around viruses there is no risk to chicken meat or eggs and no need for public alarm.’

What are the symptoms? 

Symptoms of bird flue usually take three to five days to appear with the most common being:  

  • a very high temperature 
  • or feeling hot or shivery 
  • aching muscles 
  • headache 
  • a cough or shortness of breath