A viral strain of avian influenza that sickens domesticated and wild birds in Minnesota has infected a wild mammal for the first time in the state.
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a wild fox from Anoka County recently tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI.
The infection was detected in juvenile foxes by the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory this week, the agency said Wednesday.
The DNR said two juvenile red foxes tested positive for HPAI in Ontario last week, marking the first time reported cases in a wild mammal in North America.
HPAI outbreaks this year have killed nearly 40 million chickens and turkeys on US farms since February. About 3 million of those birds were in Minnesota. And unlike a major 2015 outbreak, hundreds of wild birds, including bald eagles and other raptors, have become ill in the US, including Minnesota.
Health officials say HPAI does not represent a significant health risk to people, even though one human case of the disease was confirmed in Colorado last month. Officials say people are unlikely to catch the virus unless they have been in direct contact with infected birds for a long time, which happened in Colorado.
“Wild animals can sometimes transmit diseases to humans, and while we generally think of rabies or other well-known diseases as primary concerns, this suggests that there are other risks to take into account, State Public Health Joni Schaeffel, a Minnesota Department of Health veterinarian, said in a DNR announcement Tuesday. “The best advice we have for Minnesotans is to avoid contact with wildlife that appears sick or injured and to contact your health care provider if you are bitten or have other close contact with wildlife.”