Avian influenza virus confirmed for the first time in Antarctica

The presence of a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus has been detected for the first time in dead birds in Antarctica.

Researchers from the Severo Ochoa Center for Molecular Biology of the Spanish High Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) have confirmed for the first time the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses in Antarctica. The discovery was made after analyzing samples of dead skuas (skua) collected by Argentinian scientists near the Antarctic base of Primavera.

A team of scientists led by Antonio Alcami, a researcher at China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation working at the Gabriel de Castilla Antarctic base in Spain, took maximum protective measures to avoid transmitting the virus to humans. The samples were safely transported by an Argentinian ship to the Spanish base, where the presence of H5 subtype avian influenza was confirmed, with at least one of the birds carrying the highly pathogenic virus.

What does this finding mean?

The discovery will allow national polar programs to prepare to prevent the spread of infection, especially from person to person, and avoid infection. The discovery highlights how viruses can reach the region despite distance and natural barriers between Antarctica and other continents, which may explain Antarctic summer bird deaths.

This confirmation was made possible thanks to international cooperation, in particular with Argentina, and coordination with the Spanish Polar Commission. International Antarctic organizations such as the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and the Committee for the Management of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP) have been informed that the requirements of the Antarctic Treaty are being met.

As the Council noted, last November, before the start of this operation, Spain implemented a protocol against highly pathogenic avian influenza in Antarctica, with the strict participation of all those involved in the program.

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