Polar bear dies from bird flu in Alaska

Animal News : Polar bear in Alaska dies from bird flu

A polar bear in Alaska has died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu, also known as avian influenza. Reported in December by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, this is the first recorded case globally of a polar bear dying from the virus. 

This incident illustrates the widespread reach of the virus, now affecting even the most remote areas of the planet. 

Bob Gerlach, Alaska’s state veterinarian, confirmed the incident, which happened near Utqiagvik, one of Alaska’s northernmost communities. It is suspected that the bear contracted the virus by consuming carcasses of birds infected with H5N1.

Polar bears, listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, are now confronted with this new threat. 

H5N1 was first detected in the Antarctic region in October, affecting brown skua on Bird Island, off South Georgia. This was followed by numerous deaths of elephant seals, fur seals, kelp gulls, and more skuas. The virus poses a significant ecological threat, particularly if it reaches unique and isolated species like penguins.

Bird flu and farming

The H5N1 strain of bird flu initially emerged on industrial chicken farms and has since evolved and spread to wild birds and other animals.

H5N1 is highly pathogenic, meaning it can cause severe disease and high mortality rates. Its first major outbreak in domestic poultry occurred in the late 1990s in Asia. Since then, the virus has spread globally.

In industrial chicken farms, the large number of birds creates an environment that contributes to the rapid spread and mutation of the virus. This can lead to more aggressive strains that pose a risk to bird populations and mammals, including humans.

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