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Bird flu is believed to have killed nearly 600 sea lions off the coast of Peru, officials said.
The country’s wildlife conservation agency said 585 sea lions and 55,000 wild birds had died in recent weeks from the highly contagious H5N1 avian virus.
H5N1 has been circulating in the northern hemisphere for several years, but repeated cycles of infection are spreading to previously unaffected continents such as South America and Antarctica.
It is not known whether the sea lions died from the virus after being infected directly from birds, or whether there was a persistent mammalian infection that has not yet been identified in mammals in the wild.
It is my understanding that UK experts are aware of developments in Peru and are monitoring the report.
There have been individual cases of bird flu in British mammals over the past year, but they were isolated incidents believed to have been caused by animals scavenging the carcasses of dead birds.
Last week, the first non-avian UK case of H5N1 of 2023 was confirmed in a fox in Powys, Wales.
The virus has also been identified in a handful of otters and seals, but none of the UK outbreaks have suggested transmission between mammals.
However, there have been documented incidents of the virus being transmitted among captive-raised mink on farms in Spain.
Sustained mammal-to-mammal transmission marks a new phase of avian influenza and suggests that the virus may eventually adapt to spread among humans.
At present, cases of human infection with avian influenza through close contact with poultry or wild birds are rare and isolated.
Since the latest H5N1 pandemic began a year ago, fewer than 10 people worldwide have contracted the virus through close contact with poultry and other birds, and only one human death has been reported. Not.
Last week, it was revealed that a mass death of seals in the Caspian Sea off the coast of Dagestan was linked to bird flu, but it has not been confirmed whether the virus was transmitted between animals.
In Peru, the Nature Conservation Agency of the National Nature Reserve (Sernanp) said in a statement that birds killed by H5N1 included pelicans, seagulls and penguins.
The confirmation of the presence of H5N1 in dead sea lions prompted officials to issue a “biological alert protocol.”
People are being asked to avoid contact with sea lions and seabirds on the country’s beaches.
The latest variant of the H5N1 virus began spreading in Europe in the fall of 2021, killing millions of birds worldwide.