Bird flu has reached Antarctica. The scientists of Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center The Supreme Council for Scientific Research (Csic), under the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, confirmed for the first time on February 24 the presence of the highly pathogenic bird flu virus around the South Pole. Specifically, it’s about the team – led by the Csic researcher Antonio Alcamiwhich works at the Spanish Antarctic base Gabriel de Castilla on Deception Island, analyzed the viruses found in two samples of skua (birds from the skua family) that died near the Argentine Antarctic base Primavera.

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The two confirmed cases of bird flu

The samples – said the Csic in a note – were obtained using maximum protective measures to prevent the transmission of the virus to humans, and the viruses present were immediately inactivated to be able to study them in complete safety. The samples were then transported by an Argentine ship to the Antarctic base on Deception Island, where they were analyzed by CSIC researchers Ángela Vazquez and Alcamí.

The infection caused by the H5 subtype

The analysis showed that the birds were infected with the H5 subtype of avian influenza and that the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus was present in at least one sample, identified through analysis with 100 percent confidence.

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What does this discovery mean?

The discovery therefore shows for the first time that the highly pathogenic bird flu virus has reached Antarctica despite the distance and natural barriers that separate it from other continents – the researchers emphasize – and will allow the preparation of targeted prevention programs.

In addition, the discovery could also explain bird deaths recorded during the Antarctic summer. The more aggressive variant has so far been found in numerous locations in the northern hemisphere and, since last summer, also in the southern hemisphere.

The virus has recently been described in the sub-Antarctic islands, but although significant deaths of some birds have been reported in the Antarctic region, its presence has never been confirmed.