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Bird flu found in Alberta skunks for first time: experts

Alberta is the latest Canadian province to have found avian influenza, or bird flu, in another species.

Cases of bird flu have been confirmed in skunks in the Vegreville-Wainwright-Lloydminster area in east-central Alberta, according to the province's wildlife disease specialist.

"[Avian influenza] was brought into the province in early April in migrating waterfowl, primarily the geese. As a number of geese died, we started getting reports about a number of dead skunks," Dr. Margo Pybus told CTV News Edmonton.


The skunks tested negative for rabies and positive for bird flu.

They are the only other species so far that Alberta has confirmed had avian influenza, although lab tests are pending for some young foxes, as well.

Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have all confirmed avian flu cases in foxes, according to Pybus' sources.

She called the recent virus strain – which first showed up in Atlantic Canada in late 2021 – "hotter than usual."

"This is the first time we've seen mortality in wild birds, and it's also the first time we've seen mortality in mammals that are eating the wild birds."

HEAD TILT, SPINNING ARE OBVIOUS SIGNS
Some affected wild birds have turned up at the Strathcona Raptor Shelter, which is run by the Alberta Society for Injured Birds of Prey east of Edmonton.

Roseanna Gullekson, assistant director of the shelter, said it had never been brought a bird flu case before this year.

But since mid-April, the shelter has received seven birds which all displayed the same disconcerting signs of avian influenza: balance issues, spinning, and – the "dead giveaway" – a tilted head.

"The tricky thing is we can't test them until they're dead to confirm whether or not it's bird flu," Gullekson said.

"Anything that comes in with [central nervous system] issues comes in with a story. The red tail hawk that came in first was hit by two cars. So, right off the bat, you know, maybe that's what's causing the head tilt or the balance issues – concussion, right? It's not strange for that. But the spinning in circles is."

On Wednesday, she was caring for a mature bald eagle that was believed to be sick with bird flu. A vet found no signs of trauma. However, its head was almost constantly swivelled, sometimes completely upside down.

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