Antarctica bird flu infographic
Graphic shows timeline of avian influenza reaching Antarctica.


Bird flu reaches Antarctica

By Duncan Mil

February 27, 2024 - Bird flu, which has killed millions of birds and mammals worldwide, has been confirmed on mainland Antarctica -- a potential risk for the continent’s penguin and marine mammal colonies.

Scientists detected the H5N1 subtype of highly pathogenic avian influenza near the Argentine Antarctic base Primavera on the Antarctic Peninsula south of Argentina.

Two brown skuas, large seabirds that prey on fish, small mammals and other birds like penguin chicks, were infected.

According to Spain’s Science Ministry, the presence of the virus was confirmed on Saturday by scientists at the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center, led by researcher Antonio Alcamí, who works at the Spanish Gabriel de Castilla Base on Deception Island in Antarctica.

“This discovery demonstrates for the first time that the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus has reached Antarctica despite the distance and natural barriers that separate it from other continents,” said the Spanish Science Ministry.

In October, the first recorded case of bird flu in the Antarctic region was detected in brown skuas on Bird Island, part of the British overseas territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Just a few days later, the Falkland Islands also reported their first case of bird flu.

Scientists have warned that bird flu is likely to spread further in Antarctica and could have an “immense” adverse effect, infecting 74 species of birds and marine mammals that inhabit the Antarctic region.

So far, only Oceania, including Australia and New Zealand, has remained free of the virus.

PUBLISHED: 27/02/2024; STORY: Graphic News; PICTURES: Getty Images