First Bird Flu Deaths In Penguins Reported In Antarctica, Two Die Of Deadly H5N1 Strain

First Bird Flu Deaths In Penguins Reported In Antarctica, Two Die Of Deadly H5N1 Strain

One king penguin is suspected to have died due to the highly contagious H5N1 virus or bird flu on South Georgia island in the Antarctic region. The second case is related to the death of a gentoo penguin.

Rahul MUpdated: Tuesday, January 30, 2024, 09:57 PM IST
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Penguins | Representational Image | Pexels

The first deaths due to bird flu in the penguin population in Antarctica has have been reported. One king penguin is suspected to have died due to the highly contagious H5N1 virus or bird flu on South Georgia island in the Antarctic region. The second case is related to the death of a gentoo penguin. In addition to suspected cases, one confirmed case of a gentoo penguin dying due to bird flu has also been recorded in the continent.

The Antarctic mainland has so far not reported cases of bird flu in pinguins. Following the first deaths of penguins in Antarctica due to bird flu, experts have warned of possible major H5N1 outbreak in the penguin population in Antarctica. "The arrival of this H5N1 virus in the Antarctic towards the end of last year rang alarm bells because of the risk it posed to wildlife in this fragile ecosystem," Ed Hutchinson, a molecular virologist at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, told a UK-based publication.

Diana Bell, emeritus professor of conservation biology at the University of East Anglia, warned of quick spread of the virus, adding that she had feared something like this would happen. "I am just devastated, really – as will everybody who cares about penguins and the Antarctic … Given their colonial social organisation, you’d just wonder how quickly it would go through the colonies," she was quoted as saying.

What Is Bird Flu?

Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is a type of respiratory disease caused by influenza A viruses that mainly affects birds. Some strains of the virus such as H5N1, H7N9, and H5N6, have raised concern because they can rarely infect humans too.

Bird Flu In Antarctica:

The arrival of bird flu in Antarctica in late 2023 has raised major concerns for the continent's fragile ecosystem. The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) strain H5N1 was first detected in a brown skua on Bird Island, part of the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, in October 2023. Since then, the virus has spread to other seabird species and even infected marine mammals like elephant seals.

The spread of bird flu in Antarctica is particularly worrying because many of the region's species have never been exposed to the virus and have little to no immunity. Some experts fear that the virus could even wipe out entire penguin colonies.

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