New strain of bird flu prompts fears for Antarctic penguins

A new strain of bird flu discovered among Antarctic penguins is raising "serious concerns" about the spread of deadly avian viruses between continents, an Australian researcher told dpa Wednesday.

Aeron Hurt, a Melbourne-based virologist, said that he discovered the H5N5 strain of avian influenza, typically found on wild birds in North America, among the Antarctic penguin population in 2015.

Highly contagious bird influenzas have previously led to tens of thousands of birds being culled on farms in North America and Japan, while also prompting billions in state subsidies to prevent the spread of the virus.

Hurt, a professor at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, said the discovery "means the new strain must have been introduced by migratory birds, like the Arctic tern and skua, from infected poultry in North America."

"It raises serious concerns because this means these birds could bring other strains of deadly viruses," the virologist said.

So far the new flu strain has caused no illness among the penguins and is of a low-pathogenic type often carried by birds without symptoms.

However there is a risk "that these viruses could mutate into highly pathogenic viruses and suddenly cause deadly illnesses, which is not uncommon and we have seen in the past elsewhere," according to Hurt.

"If one virus has arrived in Antarctica, there is potential for other deadlier viruses. Wild birds travelling there could carry these highly pathogenic strains, since most birds are able to be infected by such influenza viruses," he said.

Last update: Wed, 21/09/2016 - 16:18

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