Groups warn of further avian flu impact in Antarctica, potential spread to Oceania

Antarctica animals

Katie Crafts/Flickr cc

Two animal health groups, in an update today, warned of further highly pathogenic avian flu spread in the Antarctica region and said it's plausible that the virus could then spread to Oceania—the only world region that hasn't experienced the spread of the current H5N1 clade.

The joint report from scientists at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) in August had warned the risk of spread of the H5N1 avian flu strain to Antarctica's wildlife populations, and in October, H5N1 was confirmed for the first time in the Antarctic region on the coast of South Georgia. The detection followed rapid southward spread of the virus in South American birds and mammals, including sea lions.

In the latest update, the groups detailed the toll of the virus on wildlife in South American and South Georgia islands. They said the risk of spread to other Antarctic islands in the Scotia Arc and Antarctic Peninsula is high. From those locations, further spread in Antarctica is likely, "and from there, incursion into Oceania is plausible," they wrote.

The negative impact in Antarctica could be immense, with 48 bird species and 26 marine mammal species inhabiting the region, some of which live in dense colonies. Similar to the Northern Hemisphere's experience, the virus could persist over the coming years and spread variably in the region's wildlife.

More poultry outbreaks in 7 US states

Meanwhile, the United States has been experiencing a resurgence of H5N1 activity in poultry since early October, and over the past 2 days, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has reported more outbreaks in seven states.

In California, the outbreaks hit commercial duck, turkey, and layer farms in Merced and Sonoma counties. Three more outbreaks in Kansas include a layer farm housing 800,000 birds. Also, the virus struck a game bird producer in South Dakota and a turkey producer in Michigan. Other poultry outbreaks, including backyard flock detections, were reported in Iowa, Oregon, and Washington.

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