Skunk found with highly contagious, easily transmissible virus HPAI -- a first for a Texas mammal, TPWD says

Here’s what we know about the infection, what humans need to know

A stock image of a skunk. (Canva, Canva)

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials said Tuesday that a highly contagious and easily transmissible virus called Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or HPAI, had infected the first mammal in the state.

A striped skunk recovered from Carson County this week was infected, according to a social media post about the finding.

There are several symptoms, including lack of fear of people, ataxia (incoordination, stumbling), tremors, seizures, lethargy, coughing, sneezing, and sudden death, according to TPWD news release.

Easily transmitted to wild and domestic birds, experts said HPAI spreads directly between animals and indirectly through environmental contamination. Other mammals that are susceptible to HPAI include foxes, raccoons, bobcats, mountain lions, and black bears.

So are humans at risk? Officials said current data shows that transmission occurs through the consumption of infected animal carcasses, though mammal-to-mammal transmission does not appear sustainable, according to TPWD. However, TPWD recommends that wildlife rehabilitators remain cautious when taking in wild animals with clinical signs consistent with HPAI due to the ease of transmission.

Quarantining animals is also one way to limit the chance of HPAI being spread to other animals.

TPWD officials say the risk of avian influenza being transmitted from infected birds to people is currently low.

If contact with wild animals cannot be avoided, the public should take basic protective measures such as wearing gloves, face masks, and handwashing. Authorities also suggest considering quarantining animals to limit the potential for HPAI exposure to other animals within the facility.

If you find wild animals with HPAI symptoms, contact your local TPWD wildlife biologist immediately.

About the Authors:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.