British scientists say they have discovered bird flu in mammals near Antarctica for the first time. The environmental agency Animal Plant Health Agency (Apha) in London said the pathogen was found in elephant seals and fur seals. She tested animals on the island of South Georgia for the H5N1 virus after several brown skua (Stercorarius antarcticus) were found dead there in October. The virus was probably introduced by migratory birds from South America and has since spread to seals and other bird species on the island.
H5N1 endangers the delicate and unique ecosystem of Antarctica, warned Apha director Ian Brown. A spread of bird flu in the region poses a risk to large populations of seabirds and marine mammals. The scientists also detected the virus in Dominican gulls (Larus dominicanus) and Antarctic terns (Sterna vittata).
However, tests on albatrosses and giant petrels on Bird Island off South Georgia were negative. There are also no reports of above-average death rates among penguins, it said.
This is not the first time that bird flu has been detected in mammals. Only recently, experts in northern Alaska detected the bird flu virus in a dead polar bear. Previously, cases had also been reported in seals in Europe and America, as well as in minks in northern Spain and in foxes and otters in England.