Researchers announced this week that a new version of the bird flu has been discovered in Antarctica. This version, H11N2, unlike any other we’ve seen before, was identified after scientists tested a group of Adélie penguins in the Antarctic.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that there’s no sign that the virus is particularly deadly, it doesn’t seem to cause illness in the penguins, and isn’t adapted to transmit to mammals.
Study author and Associate Professor Aeron Hurt, PhD, a senior research scientist at the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, Australia explained in a news release that this is the first time a live influenza virus has been detected in penguins or other birds in Antarctica.
Hurt and colleagues collected blood samples and swabs from the windpipes and posterior openings of Adélie penguins from Admiralty Bay and Rada Covadonga on the Antarctic Peninsula. They found avian influenza virus in eight samples (only 2.7%), six from adults and two from chicks.
The researchers found that all eight samples had H11N2 viruses that were very similar to each other, but “unlike anything else detected in the world,” Hurt said.
Although the virus does’t cause illness, the study shows that avian influenza viruses can make their way to Antarctica and survive in penguin populations.
“It raises a lot of unanswered questions,” Hurt said.
To learn more:
- Read the full news release: Distinct Avian Influenza Viruses Found in Antarctic Penguins
- See the study here: Detection of Evolutionarily Distinct Avian Influenza A Viruses in Antarctica
- Check out this article in LiveScience: New ‘Penguin Flu’ Found in Antarctica
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