Bird flu detected in Antarctica for the first time, raises concerns for local wildlifetext_fields
In an alarming development, bird flu has been identified in the Antarctica region for the first time, with British experts confirming its presence.
This troubling discovery has raised concerns about the potential impact of this deadly virus on indigenous species, including penguins.
The British Antarctic Survey reported that samples were collected from brown skua seabirds that perished on Bird Island in South Georgia, a British overseas territory located to the east of South America's tip and north of Antarctica's main landmass. Subsequent tests conducted in the UK confirmed the presence of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).
It is believed to have been carried to Antarctica by birds returning from their migration to South America, a region grappling with a significant number of bird flu cases, reported AFP.
Antarctica is a vital breeding ground for numerous bird species, making the introduction of bird flu particularly concerning.
Consequently, visitors to South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are now subject to enhanced biosecurity measures. Additionally, scientific fieldwork involving birds in these regions has been halted to prevent further transmission.
The threat posed by the spread of bird flu to Antarctica is a distressing development for experts, including Michelle Wille, a bird flu specialist at the University of Melbourne, who described it as "devastating news" and highlighted the potential for the situation to evolve rapidly.
Ian Brown, the head of virology at the UK's Animal and Plant Health Agency, had previously warned about the risk of migrating birds carrying the virus from South America to the Antarctic islands and, potentially, the mainland.
This scenario is particularly concerning for populations of birds such as penguins, which are unique to Antarctica and have not previously been exposed to the virus, leaving them potentially vulnerable.
On a more positive note, the Animal and Plant Health Agency reported preliminary research findings indicating that two seabird species, northern gannets and shags, had developed immunity to bird flu.
While human transmission of bird flu is rare and typically occurs through direct contact with infected birds, the virus has been detected in an increasing number of mammals. This has raised concerns about the potential for the virus to mutate into a form that is more easily transmissible among humans.
This issue has been underscored by recent bird flu-related fatalities, including a tragic case involving a two-year-old girl in Cambodia.