Ten keys to understanding the country’s sea lion outbreak

if bird flu can Transmission to humans or more marine speciesincluding those consumed by humans, and Differences from the 2009 influenza virus that caused the pandemic These are some of the questions experts answered after registering the infection in sea lions — the first infection with this highly pathogenic variant in an Argentine mammal, with a mortality rate of almost 100%.

Since mid-August, Around 200 stuffed sea lions found dead andTierra del Fuego, Santa Cruz, Chubut, Rionegro and the towns of Buenos Aires Mar del Plata, Necochea, Monte Hermoso, Villagesell and Colonel Rosales.

In consultation with the Télam news agency, a veterinarian at the National Institute of Agricultural Technology specializing in poultry viruses (INTA), Ariel Vagnozzi, and biologists and researchers Cornichet and the National University of Mar del Plata (United Nations Development Program), Diego Rodriguezprovides some keys to understanding this phenomenon.

What is bird flu?

“This is the name of a highly contagious disease produced by the influenza A virus. There are several subtypes within the genus,” Vagnozzi noted, including the H5N1 subtype registered in sea lions.

«All variants of influenza A are found only in wild birds; this is why they are considered to be huge reservoirs of the virus and play a very important role in the global spread of the disease,” he added.

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

“H1N1 is influenza A, the cause of the outbreak in humans. The two viruses are not related, the H1N1 virus originated in pigs”, assures the INTA expert.

– How did bird flu reach Argentine sea lions?

“The virus arrived in South America last year via migratory birds. The first worst case occurred earlier this year in Peru, where seabirds had a high mortality rate. The virus mutated and infected sea lions, which also had a high mortality rate ,” Rodriguez explained.

He continued: “Due to the migration of animals, the virus spread southwards, and by the middle of the year there were fatal cases in southern Chile, where the virus had reached a few weeks earlier due to the interaction between the Pacific and Atlantic colonies.” A few days ago. You can reach Fuego and from there (to the Argentinian coast) within . “

– What are the symptoms in an infected animal?

“Avian flu is a respiratory disease, so of course it causes breathing difficulties and a lot of mucus. It also has neurological effects, manifested in disorientation, lack of coordination and even immobility of the infected animals,” explains the Unmdp researcher.

“It’s a highly contagious disease, almost 100 percent fatal. Except for those animals that are very immune and those that have a low infection rate, there is no outcome other than death,” he added.

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

In terms of sea lions in particular, Rodriguez said, with the death toll in the country at about 200, “it hasn’t been that catastrophic so far, but you have to be on top and see that evolve.”

In Peru and Chile, the impact has been “very severe, with thousands of animals killed, but not to the point of endangering the survival of the populations,” he said.

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

“One of the most relevant characteristics of influenza viruses is their ability to evolve, which makes it possible to infect a wide variety of animal species. It is impossible to predict how the situation will persist, whether outbreaks in sea lions will last for a long time, or Whether the virus can spread to other species, including humans.

However, he stressed, “transmission from one species to another is usually infrequent, and when that happens, the virus is not always able to spread in an epidemic way because it needs to adapt to do so.”

– Are humans at greater risk in the face of recent mammalian cases, given that the more genetically close the new infectious species is, the “easier” this adaptation is?

“There is a possibility that the avian influenza virus can be transmitted to humans, but the probability is very low. The fact that the virus infection is found in mammals in nature may mean that this probability is increased. The proximity and handling of animals killed by influenza will increase More possibilities,” the veterinarian warned.

However, he assured that there have been reports of transmission to mammals (marine cats, feral and domestic cats, foxes, ferrets and raccoons) in the world and that “no sustained transmission in humans has been documented to date”, which is just “The number of cases globally is relatively low and there is no human-to-human transmission.

– Can sea lion infections be transmitted to marine species for human consumption?

“Regarding fish, molluscs, crustaceans and other aquatic products, there have been no apparent bird flu infections so far,” Rodriguez said.

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

“Infections in Peru and Chile lasted about a month and a half to two months, and we expect infections here to be faster,” the biologist said.

Based on precedent in the region, authorities in affected areas expect the outbreak in Argentina to end by summer, although the outbreak is currently “in full swing” and its duration depends on wildlife dynamics.

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

With the goal of “avoiding cross-contamination,” experts unanimously advise people not to travel to areas where inanimate or symptomatic sea lions are present, especially not to bring pets, to avoid eventual exposure to sea lions. Virus.

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