'Quite sad': Disoriented birds, foxes testing positive for avian flu on P.E.I.

·2 min read
Fishers on P.E.I. have reported seeing northern gannets swimming in circles. Some have washed up on shore and tested positive for avian flu. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Fishers on P.E.I. have reported seeing northern gannets swimming in circles. Some have washed up on shore and tested positive for avian flu. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

Hundreds of sick and dead birds — and even some fox kits — have been taken to the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) in Charlottetown and tested for avian flu this year.

The most affected appear to be waterfowl, including a recent rash of gannets and predatory birds, said Megan Jones, an assistant professor at AVC and the regional director of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative in Atlantic Canada.

She said 23 birds have tested positive, and 16 others are believed to be positive but are pending confirmation at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg. Four fox kits have also had a preliminary positive test for avian flu.

"It's when you think of influenza, of course, you think about respiratory disease, but this virus gets into the brain and also many other organs," Jones said.

"It's really, it's quite, quite sad. They can get neurological signs so they can have seizures and things. It actually looks a lot like rabies."

'Looks a lot like rabies'

Employees with P.E.I. Fish and Wildlife have been busy responding to calls from the public, Jones said. They collect the birds and bring them to AVC for testing.

AVC has received "well over 1,000" birds for testing so far in 2022, when normally they would receive up to about 600 for a whole year.

Shane Ross/CBC
Shane Ross/CBC

Many of the calls come from beachgoers who have spotted northern gannets washed up on the shore — birds that have later tested positive for avian flu. Hundreds of the dead gannets have been seen in the Magdalen Islands and western Newfoundland, and dozens in the Souris area, Jones said.

"Lobster fishers have told me they've seen them swimming in circles in the water ... sort of not able to go in a straight line."

No reports of domestic birds

Jones said though avian flu appears to be spreading across the country, and has been found or suspected in bald eagles, red tailed hawks, crows, snowy owls, ducks and Canada geese, she has not received any reports of it appearing in domestic or commercial poultry.

Anyone who sees a bird or animal acting unusual — for example, if it doesn't run or fly away when approached — should contact P.E.I. Fish and Wildlife. For humane reasons, they prioritize birds and animals that are still alive so they can be euthanized, Jones said, but are making every effort to collect the dead ones, as well.

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