The deadly type of fowl flu that has been killing thousands and thousands of untamed birds around the globe has unfold south to the Antarctic area, the place it’s feared it’ll have a devastating influence on seals and whales in addition to birds corresponding to penguins and albatrosses. It might even result in extinctions.
“There are species on a few of the Antarctic islands and sub-Antarctic islands which are distinctive to these islands, and solely happen in small numbers, in a whole bunch or hundreds,” says Thijs Kuiken at Erasmus College Rotterdam within the Netherlands. “If the virus reaches these populations, they’re in risk of extinction.”
If the virus spreads round Antarctica, there’s additionally a threat of migratory birds carrying it to New Zealand and Australia for the primary time, says Kuiken.
The extremely pathogenic type of H5N1 fowl flu that has been killing many wild birds in Europe, Asia and Africa since 2020 was carried throughout the Atlantic to North America in 2021. In October 2022, it was detected in South America.
There it’s recognized to have killed hundreds of marine mammals in addition to a whole bunch of hundreds of birds of many various species, and the true numbers are prone to be a lot increased. By December 2022, it had unfold to the southern tip of South America.
In latest days, researchers at a British Antarctic Survey station on Chook Island, simply off the bigger island of South Georgia, discovered some sick brown skuas and large petrels, and despatched samples again to the UK for testing.
“The check got here again yesterday, they usually had been certainly optimistic,” says Norman Ratcliffe, a seabird ecologist on the British Antarctic Survey.
Thus far, solely 30 lifeless birds have been discovered, however the worry is that H5N1 might unfold quickly 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 prone to get contaminated. Additionally they winter off the coast of South America and migrate to locations like South Georgia for the summer season, says Ratcliffe. So it was thought that these birds are the species prone to unfold the illness within the Antarctic area.
Animals within the Antarctic have by no means been uncovered to extremely pathogenic fowl flu earlier than, however “there’s a actual probability that the virus will attain, or has already reached, the mainland of Antarctica”, 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 hasn’t but begun, so Antarctic birds might already be dying with out being observed, says Ratcliffe. “There’s little or no commentary occurring there.”
Birds corresponding to penguins and albatrosses are sluggish breeders, says Kuiken. “So if there’s mortality in a breeding colony of, let’s say, 50 or 70 per cent, as now we have seen in some seabird colonies in Europe, then it’ll take years, if not many years, for these populations to return to their earlier ranges.”
Uncommon species in danger from the virus embody a number of species of parakeet discovered solely on the Auckland and Antipodes islands south of New Zealand, the flightless Falkland steamer duck, the Kerguelen tern and the New Zealand sea lion, in response to the August report.
Antarctic researchers are taking precautions corresponding to disinfecting footwear and tools, and websites the place the illness is current will probably be closed to tourism, however aside from that there isn’t a lot that may be carried out to cease the unfold of the virus. “It’s probably that transmission will probably be fowl to fowl,” says Ratcliffe.
The viruses from Chook Island at the moment are being sequenced, says Ian Brown on the UK’s Animal and Plant Well being Company, which did the preliminary testing. “We all know it’s H5N1 however additional characterisation is beneath means, together with genomics, which is able to verify the connection to different viruses and due to this fact doubtless origins,” he says.
- fowl flu/
- infectious illnesses