Bird flu detected in Utah foxes, marking first mammalian cases in the state

A photo of a red fox taken in Utah. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials said a pair of red foxes found dead in Salt Lake County late last month tested positive for the avian flu.
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A photo of a red fox taken in Utah. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials said a pair of red foxes found dead in Salt Lake County late last month tested positive for bird flu. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Although rare, state wildlife officials point out that the highly pathogenic bird flu that spreads to wildlife across the country can infect mammals.

For example, a pair of red foxes found dead last month in Salt Lake County tested positive for influenza, marking the first mammalian cases of the virus in the state, according to the Wildlife Resources Division of the State. Utah.

“While it does happen, it’s not very common for wildlife other than birds to get highly pathogenic avian influenza,” Ginger Stout, the division’s veterinarian, said Thursday. “Some states have had one or two cases in wild mammals, but that’s pretty rare and it seems to affect young animals more often when it happens.”

The cases were discovered after Utah wildlife biologists responded to reports of dead red foxes in yards outside homes in Murray and Taylorsville on May 24 and 26. Both carcasses were sent to the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and then to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, where they tested negative for rabies and positive for avian flu.

No dead birds were found near where the foxes were found, but state wildlife officials believe the foxes either came into contact with an infected wild bird or ate one. which led to their case.

Bird flu is considered “highly contagious” in birds, causing high mortality in domestic birds like chickens, domestic ducks and turkeys. It also affects waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors and scavengers like hawks, owls, crows and vultures, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. It is usually spread through nasal and oral discharge or fecal excrement.

Songbirds are generally unaffected, which is why division officials say Utahans don’t need to remove their household bird feeders unless people own birds. domestics likely to be susceptible to the virus.

This wave of avian flu, initially detected in South Carolina in January, was first discovered in Utah chickens in April. State Wildlife Officers reported the state’s first case in wild birds last month. The division has now found the virus in 25 wild birds in Cache, Carbon, Salt Lake, Tooele, Utah and Weber counties.

The virus has been detected in wildlife in more than half of US states, although Utah is the most southwestern state in which it has been confirmed. Wild birds had not tested positive for it in Arizona, California, Nevada or New Mexico as of Thursday.

It affected at least 38 million other domestic birds, according to the US Department of Agriculture. US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack two weeks ago, approved a $400 million transfer of funds from the Commodity Credit Corporation to the Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, to be used in efforts to combat avian flu. The flu is one of the reasons for the spike in prices of poultry products, including eggs.

However, the virus has only been found in one human since the outbreak began, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stout encourages Utahns to continue to report any dead scavengers or raptors at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resourcesas well as any group of five or more dead waterfowl or shorebirds.

“Just let us know and we’ll pick them up to test them out,” she said. “We continue to monitor this virus in wild bird populations. It usually doesn’t have much of an impact on overall waterfowl populations, but it’s likely we’ll die of it now that it’s been confirmed in birds. savages of the state.”

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Carter Williams is an award-winning journalist who covers general news, the outdoors, history and sports for He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a transplant from Utah via Rochester, New York.

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