Province continuing to monitor cases of mange in foxes
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P.E.I. wildlife officials are continuing to monitor an outbreak of mange in foxes as Islanders report more sightings of the sickly animals.
Garry Gregory, a conservation biologist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said officials first became aware of the outbreak in the Charlottetown area last November. He said it's difficult to determine the number of unique cases because they get many calls on the same fox.
"It's continued throughout the spring and summer," he said. "We've had multiple confirmed cases in Charlottetown and Stratford.
Mange is caused by a microscopic parasite that burrows into the skin of a fox, or other animal. It causes irritation in the skin and itchiness, said Megan Jones, the regional director of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative Atlantic region.
"The fox scratches and gets more itchy and it sort of progresses so that eventually what happens in a severe case is the skin gets thickened and crusted and there's hair loss," she said. "There's almost an allergic reaction as well to the mite. Over time it progresses into this very severe disease."
Once they're in the advanced stages of the disease they make themselves more visible, Gregory said.
If there's an opportunity for us to intervene, from a humane perspective to alleviate the suffering of a severely infected animal, that's what we would consider.- Gary Gregory
They are evaluating reports on a case by case basis, he said, but the province so far is not treating any foxes with mange.
"If there's an opportunity for us to intervene, from a humane perspective to alleviate the suffering of a severely infected animal, that's what we would consider."
Gregory said it's possible a fox treated for mange could become infected again adding they are not worried about the fox population yet.
"Typically in wildlife populations these types of disease are self-limiting and tend to run their course," he said.
Government has discussed setting traps for the foxes, but Gregory said they would end up inadvertently catching raccoons, skunks and cats.
Jones, who works in the pathology department of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, said they have received about 14 foxes since last winter that have severe cases of mange or ones that have already been found dead.
Cases of mange tend to be in the more densely populated areas of the Island like Charlottetown, Stratford and Cornwall where there is a higher fox population.
"We know that it's an infectious disease so it's transmitted more easily when there are more animals in one place because they're more likely to encounter each other and transmit the parasite to each other."
Jones said foxes with mange are more vulnerable in the winter because they lose their fur and body fat. And while it may be tempting to feed the foxes, Jones said she always recommends against it.
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