Bird flu detected in penguins near Antarctica – El Sol de México

A deadly strain of bird flu has been detected in gentoo penguins for the first time, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) reports, raising concerns that the virus could spread to the Antarctic colony.

On January 19, researchers discovered about 35 dead penguins in the Falkland Islands. SCAR veterinarian Ralph Vanstriels said samples taken from two dead penguins tested positive for the H5N1 avian influenza virus.

The deaths confirm that gentoo penguins are susceptible to the highly fatal disease, which has decimated bird populations around the world in recent months. However, Papuans rarely travel between the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina and the Antarctic Peninsula, about 1,300 kilometers to the south.

That means traveling penguins are unlikely to drive the spread of the virus to the southern continent, said UC Davis researcher Van Straels.

“The role that gentoo penguins can play is to serve as a local reservoir of infection, that is, to maintain a pool of susceptible hosts that never leave the island.”

Researchers have also found suspected cases of bird flu in king penguins near South Georgia. Vanstriels said scientists are still awaiting test results to confirm the presence of the H5N1 virus.

Hundreds of thousands of penguins congregate on the Antarctic continent, making it easy for deadly viruses to spread from one individual to another.

Van Straels said that despite the penguins’ charm, conservationists are more concerned about other species. The mass die-off of elephant seals and fur seals in South Georgia follows mass die-offs of walruses and fur seals in South America.

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“This is particularly concerning because South Georgia is home to 95% of the world’s Antarctic fur seals. If this population declines sharply, the species will be in a critical situation,” he said.

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