Scientists have confirmed that the death of at least 162 seals off the coast of New England last year was caused by the bird flu.
Last September, many young harbor seals (mostly pups less than 6 months old) started developing pneumonia and skin lesions. Over the course of the next few months, over 160 seals washed up dead from Maine to Massachusetts.
“When initial tests revealed an avian influenza virus, we asked the obvious question: How did this virus jump from birds to seals?” said lead researcher Simon Anthony of Columbia University.
Testing revealed a new strain of the H3N8 flu virus, now called seal H3N8. They found that the virus developed the ability to attack mammalian respiratory tracts. This means that it could theoretically pose a threat to human health.
“Any outbreak of disease in domestic animals or wildlife, while an immediate threat to wildlife conservation, must also be considered potentially hazardous to humans,” explained W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunology at Columbia University.
You can read more about the research, published in mBio, here: Emergence of Fatal Avian Influenza in New England Harbor Seals.
Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC.