Ten keys to understanding bird flu outbreak in Argentina’s sea lions

Throughout August, people began to observe increasingly worrying phenomena.this Avian Influenza Earlier this year, thousands of animals were slaughtered as the number of infections in agricultural facilities spread to the country’s coast. raids on sea lion populations Cases have been reported in Tierra del Fuego, Santa Cruz and Rionegro in Patagonia, and Mar del Plata, Necochea, Quicón and Viragose in Buenos Aires on the Atlantic coast There are also cases in Seoul and other places.

The laboratory of the National Animal Health Service (Senasa) confirmed the presumption: samples from all cases showed All deaths were from highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5. More than 200 specimens have now died from the pathogen, raising fears of a phenomenon similar to the 2009 H1N1 flu that spread across the country and sparked alarm.

Deaths in Patagonia and Buenos Aires’ Atlantic coastMauro V. Rizzi

To clarify these unknowns, a veterinarian specializing in avian viruses National Institute of Agricultural Technology (International Trademark Association), Ariel Vagnozziand biologists and researchers Cornichet and National University of Mar del Plata (United Nations Development Programme), Diego Rodriguezwhich provides some keys to understanding this phenomenon.

– what is bird flu?

-Vagnozzi: This is the name of a highly contagious disease produced by the influenza A virus. There are several subtypes within this genus, including the H5N1 subtype registered in sea lions. All variants of Influenza A are found only in wild birds; therefore, they are considered to be huge reservoirs of the virus that play a very important role in the global spread of the disease.

– Was it related to the H1N1 subtype of virus that caused the pandemic in 2009?

-Vagnozzi: H1N1 is influenza A and is the cause of outbreaks in humans. The two viruses are not related, and the H1N1 virus originated in pigs.

– How did bird flu spread to Argentine sea lions?

– Rodriguez: The virus reached South America last year via migratory birds.The first worst cases occurred earlier this year Peru, where the seabird mortality rate is high. The virus mutated and infected sea lions, which also had a high mortality rate. Due to the migration of animals, the virus spread to the south, and by mid-year, there were deaths in the southern region. chili A few weeks ago, due to the interaction between the Pacific and Atlantic colonies, country of fire It can be reached from there (Argentinian coast) in a few days.

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Bird flu: 50 sea lions die in Mar del Plata

– What are the symptoms in an infected animal?

– Rodriguez: Bird flu is a respiratory disease, so of course it causes difficulty breathing and a lot of mucus. It also has neurological effects, manifested by disorientation, lack of coordination, and even immobility in infected animals. It is a highly contagious disease that is almost 100% fatal. Except for those animals with very good immunity and low infection rates, there was no outcome other than death.

– How do these infectious diseases affect the viability of the species?

– Rodriguez: The sea lion mortality numbers so far have not been that catastrophic, but you have to get hold of it and see the evolution. In Peru and Chile, the impact was so severe that thousands of animals were killed, but not on a scale that endangered the survival of the populations.

– Is it possible for the virus to spread to other species?

– Vagnozzi: One of the most relevant characteristics of influenza viruses is their ability to evolve, which makes it possible to infect various animal species. It is impossible to predict how the situation will continue, whether the sea lion outbreak will continue for a long time, or whether the virus will spread to other species, including humans. Although transmission from one species to another is usually infrequent, and when this happens, the virus is not always able to spread in an epidemic fashion because it needs to adapt.

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Sea lions in Mar del Plata infected with bird flu

– Since the adaptation is “easier” when the new infecting species is genetically closer, are humans at greater risk in the face of recent mammalian cases?

-Vagnozzi: The possibility of the bird flu virus spreading to humans is possible, but very low. The fact that viral infections are found in mammals in nature may mean that this possibility increases. Approaching and handling animals killed by the flu increases the odds even more. Transmission of the virus to mammals (sea cats, feral and domestic cats, foxes, ferrets and raccoons) has been reported around the world, but no sustained transmission in humans has been documented, which is the largest in the world The number of cases is relatively small. between people.

– Can sea lion infections be transmitted to marine species consumed by humans?

– Rodriguez: With regard to fish, molluscs, crustaceans and other aquatic products, no apparent avian influenza infection has been detected so far.

– Will this outbreak affect the summer in the affected areas?

-Rodriguez: The infections in Peru and Chile lasted about a month and a half to two months, we hope it will be faster here. Given the precedent in the region, authorities in affected regions expect the outbreak in Argentina to end by summer, although the current outbreak is in full swing and its duration depends on wildlife dynamics.

– What are the recommendations for the people in the affected areas?

-Vagnozzi: It is necessary to advise people not to travel to areas where there are inanimate or symptomatic sea lions, especially not to bring pets, to avoid eventual exposure to the virus.


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