Bird flu reaches mainland Antarctica for first time, say scientists

The confirmed case on the Antarctic peninsula, coming after cases on islands nearby

By REUTERS
February 27, 2024
Emperor penguins are seen in Dumont d'Urville, Antarctica. — AFP/File

BUENOS AIRES: A deadly type of bird flu has been confirmed on the mainland of Antarctica for the first time, scientists said, a potential risk for the southern region’s huge penguin colonies.

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“This discovery demonstrates for the first time that the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus has reached Antarctica despite the distance and natural barriers that separate it from other continents,” Argentina’s Higher Council for Scientific Investigation (CSIC) said on Sunday.

The presence of the virus was confirmed on Feb 24 in samples of dead skua seabirds, which were found by Argentine scientists near the Antarctic base Primavera, CSIC added.

The confirmed case on the Antarctic peninsula, coming after cases on islands nearby, including among gentoo penguins, highlights the risk to colonies in the region to the H5N1 avian flu that has decimated bird populations around the world in recent months.

“Analysis has conclusively shown that the birds were infected with the H5 subtype of avian influenza and at least one of the dead birds contained the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus,” CSIC said in a statement.

Hundreds of thousands of penguins gather in tightly packed colonies on the Antarctic continent and nearby islands, which could enable the deadly virus to easily spread.Data from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research also showed a now confirmed case at the research base.

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