Bird flu has reached the Antarctic region. Scientists have confirmed the first-ever cases of H5N1 infection on Bird Island in the South Georgia archipelago. Scientists fear that the disease may have a negative impact on the herds of rare, endangered species inhabiting the region.
Bird flu is conquering new continents. According to scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the first cases of the disease have also been confirmed on islands located near the Arctic Circle.
Precious species versus the virus
The study was conducted after reports of brown skuas (Stercorarius antarcticus) showing a number of disturbing symptoms and the death of some birds. Employees at the research station on Bird Island in the South Georgia archipelago collected samples from the animals, which were then analyzed for the presence of the H5N1 virus. The result turned out to be positive.
As scientists explained, the disease could have reached the archipelago after the return of skuas from migration to South America, where H5N1 had already spread.
The presence of the virulent virus could have serious consequences for flocks of seabirds that inhabit the coasts of islands near the Arctic Circle. These regions are home to species such as wandering albatrosses, giant petrels, golden-crested penguins and gentoo penguins.
Also dangerous for mammals
Avian flu is a viral disease that mainly affects birds. Less virulent strains are common in wild birds and often cause no symptoms. However, some varieties, including H5 and H7, are highly pathogenic in farmed poultry and can cause high mortality if they enter wild populations.
The current epidemic began in 2022 and has caused the deaths of many species in the northern and southern hemispheres. The disease mainly affects birds, but isolated cases have also been reported in some marine mammals. The World Health Organization noted that while the number of cases in humans is low, increasing cases of bird flu among mammals raise concerns that the virus could adapt to infect humans.
Due to confirmed cases of bird flu, most field work at the research station was suspended. Scientists use biosecurity measures, including thorough cleaning of clothing and field equipment, and monitor areas with high densities of wildlife.
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