Harbor seal. Seals on the rocks. Sea lions on the cliff at La Jolla Cove in San Diego, California.

Scientists investigate the Avian Influenza outbreak in seals

A new study suggests that wild birds transmitted the Avian Influenza virus to seals in New England last summer. The virus, spreading among birds in North America, reached marine mammals and killed more than 150 seals.

According to the scientists who conducted the study, it is likely that the birds introduced the virus to the seals at least twice, and they found the virus has mutations associated with adaptation to mammals.

Although the risk to humans remains low and the outbreak in seals has already subsided, the report increases the concern that the virus could adapt to spread more quickly and efficiently among mammals and thus cause a new pandemic.

Closer monitoring of the virus’s behavior in mammals is required, as it is not yet clear how they transmit the virus among them. This action is crucial since cases have been reported in bobcats, raccoons, and foxes. 

Specialists suspect that at least seals are acquiring the virus through contact with bird droppings.

Scientists recommend closer observation of these infections and continue with the hygiene measures recommended by the authorities, which include disinfection of all areas that have been in contact with infected birds. It is essential to see this virus from a broader perspective, not only as a potential pandemic for humans but also because it is a virus that can affect many species.

Anthes, E. (March 16, 2023). Scientists Investigate a Bird Flu Outbreak in Seals. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/15/health/avian-influenza-seals.html

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