Chicken Flu Reaches the Antarctic for the First Time

This story initially appeared in The Guardian and is a part of the Local weather Desk collaboration.

Avian flu has reached the Antarctic, elevating issues for remoted populations of penguins and seals which have by no means been uncovered to the lethal H5N1 virus earlier than. The complete affect of the virus’s arrival will not be but recognized, however scientists are elevating issues about potential “catastrophic breeding failure” of the area’s fragile wildlife populations.

The virus was present in populations of a scavenging fowl referred to as brown skua on Chicken Island, which is a part of the British abroad territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. These migratory birds in all probability introduced it with them from South America the place fowl flu is widespread and has already killed an estimated 500,000 seabirds and 20,000 sea lions in Chile and Peru alone.

The present outbreak of the extremely infectious variant of H5N1—which began in 2021—is estimated to have killed tens of millions of untamed birds. Researchers have lengthy been involved about its potential affect on Antarctic wildlife, as a result of many species are discovered nowhere else on the planet, and are usually not recognized to have been uncovered to fowl flu viruses earlier than.

Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) took swabs of the birds after they discovered unexplained mortality and despatched them for testing in the UK.

Ashley Bennison, the BAS science supervisor for Chicken Island, stated: “This can be a significantly unhappy occasion to verify. We’ll proceed to watch the species on the island as finest as we will and hold the science going, however we’re not sure of the complete affect in the intervening time.”

Chicken Island is taken into account one of many planet’s richest wildlife websites, house to many endangered fowl species in addition to 50,000 pairs of breeding penguins and 65,000 pairs of fur seals. The island lies simply off the northwest tip of South Georgia, about 600 miles south-east of the Falkland Islands.

A threat evaluation on the impacts of fowl flu reaching the continent, revealed by Scientific Committee on Antarctic Analysis, stated fur seals, sea lions, skuas and gulls have been essentially the most in danger, adopted by penguins, birds of prey, sheathbills and big petrels.

Dr. Meagan Dewar, the chair of the Antarctic Wildlife Well being Community—who was the lead creator of the report—stated that the illness may end in “catastrophic breeding failure” within the area, with a “devastating affect on many wildlife species.”

The report states that “ongoing illness surveillance programmes ought to be established to determine new and rising pathogens.”

H5N1 unfold virtually 4,000 miles down South America within the area of three months, facilitated by migration routes of untamed birds. The actual fact it had already unfold down South America made it seemingly it will arrive in South Georgia in some unspecified time in the future, researchers say.

Because of the constructive checks on Chicken Island, most discipline work that includes animal dealing with has been suspended. Workers must be additional vigilant about guaranteeing they’ve clear clothes and discipline gear.

The information follows latest analysis that confirmed some seabirds within the UK—the place the outbreak was first reported—are beginning to indicate immunity to H5N1.

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