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Confirmed cases of bird flu have been found in a large number of seals in the sub-Antarctic region, indicating that the virus is still spreading worldwide.
Environment World News

Confirmed cases of bird flu have been found in a large number of seals in the sub-Antarctic region, indicating that the virus is still spreading worldwide.

A team of virologists has officially verified the initial cases of avian influenza in elephant and fur seals in the sub-Antarctic region. The extremely contagious H5N1 virus is still spreading globally.

In the past, scientists documented a large number of seal deaths and noted that many elephant seals on South Georgia island, which is a UK territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean, were showing signs of avian flu. However, although cases of the flu were confirmed in seabirds, the seal infections were only considered suspected until lab tests could confirm them.

In October, the initial instances of H5N1 were identified in the Antarctic area among brown skuas on Bird Island, near South Georgia. Two months after that, a large number of elephant seals were discovered deceased. There have also been higher numbers of fatalities among fur seals, kelp gulls, and brown skuas at multiple other locations.

Marco Falchieri, a scientist in the UK Animal and Plant Health Agency’s (APHA) influenza and avian virology team, which collected the South Georgia samples that tested positive for bird flu. He said he saw about 20 dead elephant seals. “Emotionally it is almost heartbreaking to see so many dead seals.”

According to him, other seals were displaying symptoms of bird flu such as coughing, sneezing, eye and nose discharge, and physical movements like slow head shaking and tremors.

According to Falchieri, approximately 100 animals, mostly elephant seals, likely died on South Georgia. Elephant seals seem to have been impacted more than fur seals.

He stated that my greatest concern is a mutation in mammals that can adapt, but the recent samples show no signs of this. However, we must continue to observe the situation. He also mentioned that an adaptive mutation could potentially lead to the virus becoming adapted to mammals, which would increase the danger for humans as well.

Ashley Banyard, a virologist at APHA, stated that the transmission to South Georgia mammals is indicative of the larger global situation. In mid-December, Banyard’s team identified the samples collected from the island.

“According to Banyard, spillovers happen when a large number of birds have avian flu and mammals come into contact with infected bird droppings or consume an infected bird’s remains.”

In Alaska, it was confirmed in December that a polar bear died from bird flu. Additionally, an estimated 20,000 sea lions in Chile and Peru have also perished from the virus.

While the deaths of sub-Antarctic seals and birds are concerning, Banyard noted that it is a positive development that the virus has not affected other species. Two years ago, there were concerns about penguins becoming infected and dying from the disease in the area, but that has not occurred. Overall, this is a positive outcome.

According to the speaker, if avian influenza continues to spread in the sub-Antarctic area, it could pose a significant threat to the delicate ecosystem and potentially endanger numerous populations of seabirds and marine mammals.

According to seabird ecologist Norman Ratcliffe from the British Antarctic Survey, the majority of fur seals worldwide (98%) can be found in South Georgia. However, the region is also home to significant populations of elephant and fur seals, which are currently facing significant declines and are at risk.

According to Ratcliffe, it is impossible to determine the exact number of seal deaths as they may occur at sea or their carcasses may be scavenged. However, he asserts that the mortality rate is significantly higher than expected for this time of year.

Source: theguardian.com