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Avian flu spreads to local red fox kits


An aggressive strain of the avian flu is killing chickens, ducks and wild birds across the country. But birds are not the only animals affected.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has confirmed that fox kits in at least three counties have been infected with the H5N1 strain of the bird flu.

“This is one of the most aggressive strains of avian flu that has come along in quite some time,” says Mark Naniot, the wildlife rehabilitation director with Wild Instincts in Rhinelander. “This H5N1 variant of this virus is much more aggressive than the one that they saw in 2015, so we’re finding many more casualties, not only in birds, but so far in the fox population.”

Naniot says Wild Instincts has taken in eight fox kits they believe were infected with the bird flu.

All but two of them died. One is now blind.

“Especially with cute little fox kits, it really pulls at your heart strings,” he says.

Fox kits likely get the bird flu when they eat an infected bird.

Naniot says when that happens, the kits start to lay around more, develop fevers and have seizures.

“The vast majority of what we’ve had so far seem to have died within 24 hours,” he says.

Adult foxes seem to have more immunity to the flu.

Additionally, Naniot notes pets do not seem affected by the current strain, although he warns pet owners to keep pets away from bird feeders and bird droppings.

Humans remain at very low risk for catching the virus.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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