June 22, 2024

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Destructive H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Reaches Antarctica for the First Time

Destructive H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Reaches Antarctica for the First Time



Destructive H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Reaches Antarctica for the First Time

Alert!
Tests on the carcasses of deceased brown skuas on Bird Island have returned positive results, marking the official entry of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) into the bird population of Antarctica.

Staff from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) received an alert that symptomatic and dead Brown Skuas (Catharacta antarctica) were found on a sub-Antarctic island south of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The conclusions drawn from the samples processed at the laboratory of the British Animal and Plant Health Agency are a cause for concern.

 

Destructive H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Reaches Antarctica for the First Time

 

Migration of Brown Skuas likely led to H5N1 virus infection in South America, possibly in Argentina.

While Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza has been making global headlines due to its impact on commercial poultry production, migratory birds pose the most significant threat in terms of the virus’s global spread and create opportunities for the virus to evolve and spread to other groups, including mammals.

Birds like the Antarctic Skuas, which are seabirds, are likely to have been infected with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Argentina, which they pass through during their migration in South America, where serious avian influenza outbreaks in wild birds and seals have occurred.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS), which has a research station on Bird Island, has suspended fieldwork involving animal handling and is closely monitoring other seabird colonies.

While scientists cannot confirm whether Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza has reached Antarctica, monitoring and tracking the virus within wild bird populations are notoriously challenging. Nevertheless, Bird Island is a likely location for the emergence of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza; the seabird colonies on this three-mile (4.8 kilometers) long landmass are among the most closely monitored bird populations in the world.

This island serves as a crucial research base, as it is a breeding ground for 50,000 pairs of penguins, 650,000 pairs of fur seals, and a wide variety of seabirds. The absence of rodents on the island has led small burrowing bird species to consider it a breeding haven, but it also serves as a refuge for numerous endangered species. Therefore, the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza on this small island could have devastating consequences.

Recent studies indicate that the population of this predatory species, which preys on other seabirds, has declined by 47% in the past five years, and the reasons are still unclear, but likely include nest predation, scavenging, and competition for prey.

The current outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) has been accelerating since the end of 2021, possibly resulting in the deaths of millions of wild birds. However, the nature of the spread means that official figures represent only the tip of the iceberg.

While this virus still primarily spreads among birds, it can also spread to mammals such as seals, mink, and other wildlife, and the transmission is not necessarily through scavengers consuming infected animal carcasses, so vigilance is still necessary.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has pointed out that an increasing number of mammals being infected poses a threat to humans.

Dr. Sylvie Brean, Director of Epidemiology and Pandemic Preparedness and Prevention at the World Health Organization, stated, “Based on the information currently available, it seems that this virus is not easily transmissible between humans, but it is essential to remain vigilant to identify any evolution of the virus that may change this situation.”

 

 

 

Destructive H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Reaches Antarctica for the First Time

(source:internet, reference only)


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