Avian influenza confirmed in Anoka County fox, marking first case in wild mammal in Minnesota

The virulent strain of avian influenza that has sickened domesticated and wild birds in Minnesota has infected a wild mammal in the state for the first time.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a wild fox from Anoka County recently tested positive for the highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI.

On Wednesday, the agency said that the infection in the juvenile fox was detected by the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and confirmed this week by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory.

The DNR said that two juvenile red foxes tested positive for HPAI last week in Ontario, marking the first reported cases in a wild mammal in North America.

The HPAI outbreak this year has led to the culling of nearly 40 million chickens and turkeys in U.S. farms since February. Nearly 3 million of those birds were in Minnesota. And unlike a large 2015 outbreak, hundreds of wild birds, including bald eagles and other raptors, have been sickened in the U.S., including in Minnesota.

Health officials say HPAI doesn’t 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 prolonged direct exposure to infected birds, which was the case in Colorado.

“Wild animals can sometimes transmit diseases to humans, and 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,” Joni Scheftel, the state public health veterinarian with the Minnesota Department of Health, said in the DNR’s announcement Tuesday. “The best advice we have for Minnesotans is to avoid contact with wildlife that appear sick or injured and contact your health care provider if you are bitten or have other close contact with wildlife.”

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