The lethal pressure of fowl flu that has killed tens of millions of untamed birds world wide has unfold south to the Antarctic, the place it’s feared it would have a devastating affect on seals and whales, in addition to birds equivalent to penguins and albatrosses. It may even result in extinction.
“There are species on a few of the Antarctic islands and sub-Antarctic islands which can be distinctive to these islands, and happen solely in small numbers, within the a whole lot or 1000’s,” says Thijs Kuiken of Erasmus College Rotterdam within the Netherlands. “If the virus reaches these populations, they are going to be vulnerable to extinction.”
If the virus spreads round Antarctica, there may be additionally a threat that migratory birds will carry it to New Zealand and Australia for the primary time, Kuiken says.
The extremely pathogenic type of H5N1 fowl flu, which has killed many wild birds in Europe, Asia and Africa since 2020, was transferred throughout the Atlantic Ocean to North America in 2021. In October 2022, the illness was found in South America.
1000’s of marine mammals are recognized to have been killed there, in addition to a whole lot of 1000’s of birds of many various species, and the precise numbers are seemingly a lot greater. That was the case in December 2022 unfold to the southernmost tip of South America.
In current days, researchers at a British Antarctic Survey station on Chook Island, close to the bigger island of South Georgia, have discovered some sick brown skuas and large petrels and despatched samples again to Britain for testing.
“The exams got here again yesterday they usually had been certainly constructive,” stated Norman Ratcliffe, seabird ecologist on the British Antarctic Survey.
Solely 30 useless birds have been discovered thus far, however there are fears that H5N1 may unfold rapidly within the giant and dense fowl colonies on Chook Island and South Georgia.
Skuas and large petrels will kill or scavenge different birds, making them significantly more likely to grow to be contaminated. Additionally they winter off the coast of South America and migrate to locations like south Georgia for the summer time, Ratcliffe says. Thus, these birds had been regarded as the species almost certainly to unfold the illness within the Antarctic area.
Animals in Antarctica have by no means earlier than been uncovered to the extremely pathogenic fowl flu, however “there’s a actual probability that the virus will attain or has already reached the Antarctic mainland,” says Kuiken, one of many authors of an August report. warning of the danger of extremely pathogenic fowl flu reaching Antarctica.
There are just a few stations on the mainland and the vacationer season has not but began, so Antarctic birds may die with out being observed, says Ratcliffe. “There’s little or no commentary there.”
Birds equivalent to penguins and albatrosses breed slowly, says Kuiken. “So if there’s a mortality in a breeding colony of, say, 50 or 70 p.c, as we have now seen in some seabird colonies in Europe, then it would take years, if not a long time, for these populations to return to their earlier ranges. ranges.”
Uncommon species in danger from the virus embrace a number of species of parakeet discovered solely on the islands of Auckland and Antipodes south of New Zealand, the flightless Falkland steamboat duck, the Kerguelen tern and the New Zealand sea lion, the report stated of August.
Antarctic researchers are taking precautions equivalent to disinfecting footwear and gear, and websites the place the illness is current will likely be closed to tourism, however past that there’s not a lot that may be accomplished to cease the unfold of the virus. “It is rather seemingly that bird-to-bird transmission will happen,” says Ratcliffe.
The viruses from Chook Island are actually being sequenced, says Ian Brown of the UK Animal and Plant Well being Company, which carried out the preliminary exams. “We all know it’s H5N1, however additional characterization is underway, together with genomics, which is able to verify its relationship to different viruses and due to this fact its seemingly origin,” he says.
- fowl flu/
- infectious illnesses