Antarctica struck with bird virus as scientists say flu has hit the mainland for the first time

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A deadly type of bird flu has been confirmed on the mainland of Antarctica for the first time, scientists said, a potential risk for the southern region’s huge penguin colonies.

“This discovery demonstrates for the first time that the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus has reached Antarctica despite the distance and natural barriers that separate it from other continents,” Spain’s Higher Council for Scientific Investigation (CSIC) said on Sunday.

The presence of the virus was confirmed on Saturday in samples of dead skua seabirds that were found by Argentine scientists near the Antarctic base Primavera, CSIC added.

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The confirmed case on the Antarctic peninsula, coming after cases on islands nearby, including among gentoo penguins, highlights the risk to colonies in the region to the H5N1 avian flu that has decimated bird populations around the world in recent months.

Penguins

The southern region of Antarctica’s penguin colonies are potentially at risk for bird flu as scientists say the virus has reached the mainland.  (REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)

“Analysis has conclusively shown that the birds were infected with the H5 subtype of avian influenza and at least one of the dead birds contained the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus,” CSIC said in a statement.

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Argentina’s Antarctic Institute on Monday said that the South American country had worked with Spanish researchers to test samples from dead birds found earlier in the year near the Argentine base, which confirmed the presence of the virus.

Hundreds of thousands of penguins gather in tightly packed colonies on the Antarctic continent and nearby islands, which could enable the deadly virus to easily spread.

Data from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research also showed a now-confirmed case at the research base.