Possible avian flu cases in P.E.I. foxes shows need to 'remain vigilant'

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A fox is seen feeding her kits in Belfast, P.E.I., on Sunday. Four fox kits on the Island have recently tested positive in preliminary tests for avian flu. (Shane Ross/CBC - image credit)
A fox is seen feeding her kits in Belfast, P.E.I., on Sunday. Four fox kits on the Island have recently tested positive in preliminary tests for avian flu. (Shane Ross/CBC - image credit)

Preliminary positive tests for avian flu in four P.E.I. fox kits is a cause for concern but not alarm, says provincial veterinarian Dr. Jill Wood.

"It shows that we have to remain vigilant, I think, because it is a new and somewhat unexpected development," said Wood.

Twenty three birds have tested positive on the Island and 16 more tests are pending.

Infections in mammals are uncommon, she said. Pigs are known to be able to catch it and pass it on to humans, but there is no evidence that this is possible for pets such as dogs or cats.

There were some cases in cats in Germany, said Wood, but that was during a much more severe outbreak than P.E.I. is experiencing. Dogs have been found to have antibodies against the virus, but have not been known to get sick.

"All the evidence seems to indicate that when these unusual mammals are being infected, it ends there. They don't have the ability to pass it on to another mammal," said Wood.

That being said, Wood believes it is only sensible to take some precautions.

If the kits are confirmed to have avian flu, the most likely source is believed to be eating an infected bird. Wood suggests keeping dogs on leash so they don't pick up any bird carcasses, and also keeping domestic cats under control.

Barn cats should be kept separated from any poultry that appears to be ill.

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