French officials have notified the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) that avian influenza (bird flu) has been detected in foxes in the country.

According to the WOAH report published on Monday (March 6), three foxes were found dead in a nature reserve near Meaux, which is around 54km northeast of Paris.

The foxes were found in an area where gulls had also died.

One of the foxes was collected and tested by authorities which confirmed the presence of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu.

The case follows confirmed cases of bird flu in other mammals including seals, otters, and mink.

Bird flu

Since October 2021, the WOAH said that there has been “an unprecedented number of outbreaks” of bird flu reported in regions across the world.

While it primarily affects poultry and wild birds, avian influenza can occasionally be transmitted to mammals, including humans.

In recent weeks, the disease was detected for the first time in Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay.

Authorities in Cambodia also confirmed cases of humans being infected with the virus from birds, which resulted in the death of an 11-year-old girl.

“A rising number of H5N1 avian influenza cases has been reported in several mammalian animals both terrestrial and aquatic, causing morbidity and mortality.

“This sparks growing concern about the threat for the health of domestic and wild animals, biodiversity, and potentially for public health,” the WOAH said.

The agency warned that the current situation highlights the risk that the virus could become better adapted to mammals and “spill over to humans and other animals”.

Meanwhile, the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) has stated that bird flu still poses little threat to humans.

However, in its latest technical briefing on the disease the agency warned it will remain vigilant as “viruses constantly evolve”.

Although high levels of transmission in wild birds present a constant risk, the UKHSA said that there is no evidence so far that the virus is “getting better at infecting humans or other mammals“.