Influenza A (H5N1) virus detected in Wild Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in Ontario
Working with our partners at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Animal Health Laboratory, the CWHC ON/NU diagnosed influenza A (H5N1) in 2 wild fox kits in Ontario, on May 2, 2022. These cases represent the first detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) H5N1 A/goose/Guangdong/1996 (Gs/GD) lineage in wild mammals in Ontario, Canada and in the Americas.
The fox kits were found together in St. Marys, Ontario and submitted from a wildlife rehabilitation centre. One of the kits was found dead and the other was exhibiting severe neurological signs (including seizures) and died shortly after admission to a wildlife rehabilitation centre. Based on clinical signs, post-mortem/microscopic examination, and the detection of influenza A (H5N1) virus in brain tissue, it is likely that influenza A (H5N1) virus was the cause of mortality for these foxes.
Although these cases represent the first detections of influenza A (H5N1) viruses in wild mammals in Ontario, influenza A (H5N1) virus is known to affect a variety of wild mammals, including wild fox kits in Europe. Work is underway to further characterize the viruses found in the Ontario fox kits to determine their relatedness to the current influenza A (H5N1) virus strains circulating in wild birds. Our ongoing avian influenza surveillance activities allow us to track the geographic and seasonal spread of HPAIV and determine which species are at risk. This information is used to inform risk assessments for wildlife, poultry, and public health. Although the risk to humans is considered to be low at this time, these cases are an important reminder that animals other than birds may become infected with influenza A (H5N1) viruses, and appropriate precautions should always be taken when handling wildlife to avoid exposure.
We are grateful to all our submitters and project partners who support our surveillance activities, including Environment and Climate Change Canada, CFIA, and Ontario Ministries of: Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources, and Forestry; Health; and Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. We also wanted to particularly acknowledge the wildlife rehabilitation community, who continue to make important contributions to Ontario’s ongoing wildlife health surveillance activities.
For information on current HPAIV cases in wildlife please visit Canada’s HPAIV dashboard.
If you encounter sick or dead wildlife in Ontario or Nunavut, please contact the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative by phone (866-673-4781), email (email@example.com), or report online. For information about who to contact in other provinces and territories, please click here.
Submitted by CWHC ON/NU
Brian Stevens and Claire Jardine
For additional information about avian influenza please visit:
Human Health and Safety, Handling and Consumption Guidance.
Wild birds and avian influenza – Handling guidelines – Public Health Agency of Canada
Information about this disease in people can be found on the Ontario Ministry of Health website. General information: https://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/emb/avian/default.aspx
FAQ (including clinical symptoms to monitor for): https://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/emb/avian/faq.aspx
Avian Influenza and Wild Birds
Avian influenza in wild birds and avian influenza – Environment and Climate Change Canada
Avian Influenza and Domestic Poultry and Pet Birds
How to prevent and detect disease in backyard flocks and pet birds – Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Avian Influenza Information – Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
For updates regarding the spread of avian influenza and HPAI outbreaks see the following websites:
Canada – http://www.cwhc-rcsf.ca/avian_influenza_biweekly_reports.php. You can also receive automatic updates via email by sending a request to firstname.lastname@example.org