Bird Flu Reaches the Antarctic for the First Time

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This communicative originally appeared successful The Guardian and is portion of nan Climate Desk collaboration.

Avian flu has reached nan Antarctic, raising concerns for isolated populations of penguins and seals that person ne'er been exposed to nan deadly H5N1 microorganism before. The afloat effect of nan virus’s presence is not yet known, but scientists are raising concerns astir imaginable “catastrophic breeding failure” of nan region’s vulnerable wildlife populations.

The microorganism was recovered successful populations of a scavenging vertebrate called brownish skua connected Bird Island, which is portion of nan British overseas territory of South Georgia and nan South Sandwich Islands. These migratory birds astir apt brought it pinch them from South America wherever vertebrate flu is wide and has already killed an estimated 500,000 seabirds and 20,000 oversea lions successful Chile and Peru alone.

The existent outbreak of nan highly infectious version of H5N1—which started successful 2021—is estimated to person killed millions of chaotic birds. Researchers person agelong been concerned astir its imaginable effect connected Antarctic wildlife, because galore type are recovered obscurity other successful nan world, and are not known to person been exposed to vertebrate flu viruses before.

Researchers from nan British Antarctic Survey (BAS) took swabs of nan birds erstwhile they recovered unexplained mortality and sent them for testing successful nan United Kingdom.

Ashley Bennison, nan BAS subject head for Bird Island, said: “This is simply a peculiarly sad arena to confirm. We will proceed to show nan type connected nan land arsenic champion arsenic we tin and support nan subject going, but we are unsure of nan afloat effect astatine nan moment.”

Bird Island is considered 1 of nan planet’s richest wildlife sites, location to galore endangered vertebrate type arsenic good arsenic 50,000 pairs of breeding penguins and 65,000 pairs of fur seals. The land lies conscionable disconnected nan northwest extremity of South Georgia, astir 600 miles south-east of nan Falkland Islands.

A risk assessment connected nan impacts of vertebrate flu reaching nan continent, published by Scientific Committee connected Antarctic Research, said fur seals, oversea lions, skuas and gulls were nan astir astatine risk, followed by penguins, birds of prey, sheathbills and elephantine petrels.

Dr. Meagan Dewar, nan chair of nan Antarctic Wildlife Health Network—who was nan lead writer of nan report—said that nan illness could consequence successful “catastrophic breeding failure” successful nan region, pinch a “devastating effect connected galore wildlife species.”

The study states that “ongoing illness surveillance programmes should beryllium established to place caller and emerging pathogens.”

H5N1 dispersed almost 4,000 miles down South America successful nan abstraction of 3 months, facilitated by migration routes of chaotic birds. The truth it had already dispersed down South America made it apt it would get successful South Georgia astatine immoderate point, researchers say.

As a consequence of nan affirmative tests connected Bird Island, astir section activity that involves animal handling has been suspended. Staff will person to beryllium other vigilant astir ensuring they person cleanable clothing and section equipment.

The news follows caller investigation that showed immoderate seabirds successful nan UK—where nan outbreak was first reported—are starting to show immunity to H5N1.

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