'Outbreak' of mange in P.E.I. foxes

Wildlife experts say there's an outbreak of sarcoptic mange affecting Prince Edward Island foxes, with reported cases in Charlottetown, Cornwall and Summerside.

10 foxes dead with confirmed cases of mange

Experts say the fox population on Prince Edward Island is healthy, so they don't anticipate that this outbreak will result in a significant population decline. (Submitted by Paul Gauthier)

Wildlife experts say there's an outbreak of sarcoptic mange affecting Prince Edward Island foxes, with reported cases in Charlottetown, Cornwall and Summerside.

Sarcoptic mange is a disease caused by a microscopic parasite — a mite — which burrows itself into surface layers of skin causing the skin to get itchy and irritated. It can result in loss of hair, thickened crusty skin and bald areas on faces and legs.

Megan Jones, a wildlife pathologist and director of the Atlantic Canada Branch of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC), which is based out of the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC), said she started hearing about mange in foxes over the winter and that since January the CWHC/AVC saw 10 foxes that died with confirmed cases of mange.

"That is an outbreak," said Jones.

'Unusual' for P.E.I.

Jones said historically, there hasn't been much mange in P.E.I.

"It's a common disease, however this number of cases is an unusual spike in the disease right now in the population of foxes," she said.

Mange mostly affects canids like foxes, coyotes, and can affect domestic dogs. Jones said there are currently no confirmed cases of mange in any other species on P.E.I.

It is mostly transmitted through very close contact between animals.

It could also cause mild infections in humans who are in close contact with foxes. 

Fox population won't be treated

She said despite the high number of cases, there's no real reason to be concerned about the population of foxes overall.

"Usually, mange is not the kind of disease that causes population declines or anything like that," she said, adding the the fox population on P.E.I. is currently at a healthy number. "Usually it runs its course through a population."

Mange can cause crusting on the legs of foxes. (Submitted by CWHC Atlantic Region)

Chuck Gallison, a wildlife officer with the province, echoed that statement and explained that there are currently no plans to treat the foxes. 

"They're going to be alright," he said, adding the population should recover and rebound on its own.

At this point, the plan is to continue observing the situation, and keep track of the cases being reported.

The cause unknown

The reason for the outbreak is difficult to determine, Gallison and Jones explained. 

Gallison said it could be that this is a natural way for the population to take a hit.

Mange can cause animals to lose hair and create a thickened crusty skin. (Submitted by CWHC Atlantic Region)

"People should just be aware that we are aware that this is out there, and P.E.I. Fish and Wildlife is aware that it's out there," added Jones. "We are closely monitoring the situation."

She said if someone is worried their dog could be infected, they should take the dog to a veterinarian, as it is treatable.

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About the Author

Katerina Georgieva is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Windsor. She has also worked for CBC in Charlottetown, Toronto and Winnipeg.