3 fox kits die from bird flu in Southeast Michigan, DNR says

1 fox kit survived, but is now blind

The avian flu has made a documented leap from birds to mammals here in Michigan. That's prompting a warning for anyone with birds in their backyard, sharing the environment with their household pets.

Three red fox kits died from the very contagious bird flu (HPAI). This is the first time a wild mammal in Michigan has been confirmed to have avian influenza (HPAI).

The fox kits were found between April 1 and April 14 and came from three separate dens in Lapeer, Macomb and St. Clair counties, according to officials.

A wildlife rehabilitator reached out to the DNR about fox kits showing signs of bird flu before they died. They were seen circling, tremoring and seizing. Two of the three died within hours of intake, while one appeared to respond to medical help but then died in care.

An additional kit that was a sibling of the Macomb County kit did survive but became blind. That kit will not be released back into the wild and instead will be housed at a nature center.

CDC says risk to humans is low

The CDC has said the risk to the public is low. There has only been one report of bird flu in a human in the United States and that case was in Colorado.

The person had direct exposure to the infected poultry and was involved in killing them. They only experienced fatigue for a few days and have since recovered.

Bird flu is known to affect birds and can spread among backyard flocks and commercial poultry facilities. It is highly contagious and poultry are especially vulnerable. This strain also affects waterfowl, raptors and scavengers.

The first detection of the virus in a commercial poultry facility in Michigan was in Muskegon County.

HPAI in red foxes outside Michigan

Bird flu has been confirmed in red foxes outside of Michigan.

A recent article in Emerging Infectious Diseases said the virus was found in wild red fox kits at a rehabilitation center in the Netherlands in May 2021, during an outbreak in wild birds.

Another report of the virus in wild mammals was in Canada on May 2, 2022. Two wild fox kits in Ontario tested positive for the virus. One was found dead and the other has symptoms before dying at a rehabilitation center.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported a case in a wild fox kit from Anoka County on Wednesday (May 11)

“HPAI H5N1 viruses may occasionally transmit from birds to mammals, as occurred in these cases, and there may be additional detections in other mammals during this outbreak, but they likely will be isolated cases,” said Megan Moriarty, the state wildlife veterinarian with the DNR. “At this point, it is unclear how the fox kits became infected, but it’s possible that they were exposed by consuming infected birds, such as waterfowl.”

What you can do to protect your birds

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said poultry owners should minimize the number of people coming in contact with their birds and isolate their birds from wild birds when possible. You should also disinfect your hands and clothing after coming into contact with poultry.

Michigan officials also recommend the following steps:

  • Prevent contact between domestic and wild birds by bringing them indoors or ensuring their outdoor area is fully enclosed.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling birds as well as when moving between different coops.
  • Disinfecting boots and other gear when moving between coops.
  • Do not share equipment or other supplies between coops or other farms.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting equipment and other supplies between uses. If it cannot be disinfected, discard it.
  • Using well or municipal water as drinking water for birds.
  • Keep poultry feed secure to ensure there is no contact between the feed/feed ingredients and wild birds or rodents.

What are the signs of HPAI?

There may be an absence of many of the routine signs of illness in domestic poultry, according to the DNR.

One of the major indicators of HPAI is sudden death and high death losses. Sick birds may show neurological signs like difficulty walking, lack of appetite, low energy, or lack of vocalization.

You might notice a significant drop in egg production, swollen combs, wattles, legs, or head. They could also have diarrhea, nasal discharge, sneezing, or coughing.

Ducks and geese are considered carriers, but geese generally do not pass on bird flu.

How to report a sick bird or fox

Domestic bird owners should watch out for unusual deaths, a drop in egg protection, a decrease in water consumption or an increase in sick birds. If you suspect your birds have bird flu you should contact MDARD at 800-292-3939 (daytime) or 517-373-0440 (after-hours).

If you see any unusual or unexplained deaths among wild birds you can report those to the DNR through the Eyes in the Field app (select observation forms) or by calling 517-336-5030.

  • Call the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory at 517-336-5030.
  • Calling a local DNR field office to speak to a field biologist.

“We greatly appreciate the effort to report instances of animals that are sick or appear to have unusual or unexplained deaths, because those tips often lead to important information,” said Megan Moriarty, the state wildlife veterinarian with the DNR. “Every bird or animal reported may not be tested for HPAI, but all observations are important.”

Read: Previous coverage on bird flu

For more information, go to Michigan.gov/BirdFlu, Michigan.gov/AvianInfluenza or Michigan.gov/AvianDiseases.

Red fox kit: A healthy red fox kit in a grassy Michigan forest. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

About the Author:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.