H5N1 Bird Flu Kills Wildlife In South America, Alarming Situation Persists

by | Mar 14, 2024 | Environmental News, Wildlife

Home » Environmental News » H5N1 Bird Flu Kills Wildlife In South America, Alarming Situation Persists

 

The deadly H5N1 Bird Flu kills wildlife in South America since its arrival in 2022. According to interviews with eight scientists, the virus poses an alarming risk of evolving into a more significant threat to humans.

Mammal-to-Mammal Transmission Raises Concerns

Initially confined to bird species, the virus has exhibited evidence of spreading between mammals, raising immediate concerns among scientists. This strain of the H5N1 virus has led to the deaths of several dolphins in Chile and Peru, approximately 50,000 seals and sea lions along the coasts, and at least half a million birds across the region. Scientists speculate that mammal-to-mammal transmission has occurred, citing the need for live animal testing to confirm such occurrences. Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, noted the difficulty in explaining large infections and die-offs without acknowledging mammal-to-mammal spread. The virus has been identified in numerous bird species, including migrating ones, raising concerns about its potential spread beyond South America.

H5N1 Bird flu kills Wildlife in South America

As climate change accelerates, the movement of animals into new territories may facilitate the mutation of the virus, posing a heightened risk to both wildlife and humans. Alonzo Alfaro-Nunez, a viral ecologist at the University of Copenhagen, predicts the eventual detection of a South American strain of the virus in North America due to changing environmental dynamics.

Human Risk and Regional Response

The growing concern surrounding the H5N1 bird flu has prompted action from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). Representatives from 35 countries in the organization convened in Rio de Janeiro to discuss regional strategies for monitoring and responding to the virus. Plans are underway to establish the world’s first regional commission dedicated to overseeing bird flu surveillance and response efforts.

Since its detection in Colombia in October 2022, only two human cases of H5N1 bird flu have been reported on the continent, one each in Ecuador and Chile. Both cases resulted from exposure to infected birds, with the patients ultimately surviving. However, globally, the virus is deadly in approximately 60% of human cases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) maintains a current risk level of “low” for humans, pending evidence of human-to-human transmission or mutations adapted to human receptors. While drugmakers such as GSK and Moderna are developing vaccines for H5N1 bird flu, WHO experts emphasize the need for conclusive evidence before adjusting the risk level.

Genetic Mutations and Wildlife Impact

Researchers studying the South American variants of H5N1 have identified genetic mutations in wildlife populations. In Argentina’s Peninsula Valdes, a significant colony of elephant seals experienced a devastating loss of pups, with researchers estimating approximately 17,400 deaths. Scientists suspect that the virus spread among the pups through maternal contact rather than direct exposure to birds.

A draft paper published on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website highlights genetic mutations identified in samples collected from sea lions, seals, and birds along the South American coast. Comparisons with samples from North America and Asia revealed nine new mutations specific to the South American variants. These mutations were also present in human cases, emphasizing the potential threat posed by the virus to public health.

In conclusion, the rampant spread of the H5N1 Bird Flu kills wildlife in South America and underscores the urgent need for regional collaboration in monitoring and responding to the virus. With the potential for further mutations and increased human risk, proactive measures are essential to mitigate the threat posed by this deadly virus.

Also Read: Heavy Rains Flood Argentina, Buenos Under Water

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