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Scientists confirm first cases of bird flu in Antarctica

Bird flu

For the first time, bird flu has reached the Antarctic mainland, “despite the distance and natural barriers.”

Bird flu or the H5N1 virus was found on the Antarctic mainland on Friday in two dead skuas, carnivorous seabirds also known as predatory gulls. “For the first time, we could determine that the highly pathogenic bird flu virus has reached Antarctica, despite the distance and the natural barriers that separate it from other continents,” Spanish scientists wrote in a report.

More cases of suspected bird flu have been reported in Antarctica, including in kelp gulls and Antarctic skuas, according to data from the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR).

It is currently believed that the virus spreads via migratory birds. The outbreak of the H5N1 virus is believed to have killed millions of wild birds worldwide since 2021. Now that the virus has also reached the Antarctic mainland, all continents have been affected except Oceania.

Polar bear

Bird flu reached the wider Antarctic region in October last year. Then it was discovered in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from Antarctica. Birds were particularly affected, including gulls, skuas and terns. Scientists later discovered that albatrosses, penguins and fulmars also died. Even Antarctic mammals were not spared. Hundreds of elephant seals succumbed in South Georgia.

Scientists fear the worst for Antarctica’s unique biodiversity if the rise of bird flu continues. If the virus were to strike the penguin colonies, they predict millions of victims.

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