Bird Flu Spread Killing South American Wildlife


The deadly H5N1 bird flu virus is spreading more aggressively than ever before since its arrival in South America in 2022.
It is killing wild birds and marine mammals on the continent.
Reuters recently spoke to eight experts in bird flu science.
All said the current spread raises the risk of the virus becoming a bigger threat to humans.
The more immediate concern is that the disease, which once affected mostly birdlife, appears to be spreading between mammals.
The disease has already killed several dolphins in Chile and Peru.
It has also killed about 50,000 seals and sea lions along the coasts and at least half a million birds across South America.
Scientists have not yet tested infections in living animals to confirm mammal-to-mammal passage of the virus.
But they believe it is very likely.
“It’s almost certainly happened,” said Richard Webby.
He is a virologist at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
“It’s pretty hard to explain some of these large infections and die off without having mammal-to-mammal spread.”
The same version of the virus has appeared in many bird species.
Among them are migrating species, scientists told Reuters.
As climate change continues, animals are forced to move into new territories, often mixing with animals — and viruses — that are new to them.
“It’s a matter of time before you will detect the first South American strain in North America,” said Alonzo Alfaro-Nunez, a viral ecologist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
Human riskThe growing concern led the intergovernmental Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to gather health experts and officials for a meeting this week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The group plans to launch the world’s first regional program to supervise bird flu spread.
The program will run observation and response efforts, a PAHO official told Reuters.
Since the virus was first detected in Colombia in October 2022, there have been two known cases in humans on the continent.
One was in Ecuador.
The other was in Chile.
Birds passed the virus in each case.
About 60 percent of human cases of the virus end in death.
The World Health Organization is unlikely to raise the H5N1 risk level for humans from the current “low” right now.
The experts would require evidence of human-to-human transmission or signs of viral changes that would target humans, experts said.
Several drugmakers have said they are developing bird flu vaccines for humans.
“We’re seeing (the virus) do… little evolutionary steps that are on the long-term moving towards a potential human infection,” said Ralph Vanstreels.
He is a researcher at the University of California, Davis.
He is studying South American variants of H5N1.
Regional responseWith health officials and experts meeting in Rio this week, Latin American countries will be pressured to increase disease surveillance in the wild.
The region’s data is lacking and limited resources have left scientists struggling to understand how the disease is spreading in the wild.
Scientists expect the number of cases is probably much higher than reported.
Some cases are not getting laboratory testing.
Bolivia, for example, did not register a case in the wild last year.
But the disease has been reported in surrounding countries, said Manuel Jose Sanchez Vazquez, a disease expert for PAHO’s animal health center.
Overseeing the disease response can also be complex, Sanchez noted.
Public health officials deal with threats to humans.
Agricultural experts and veterinarians deal with health threats to farm animals, including birds, cows and pigs.
But for wild animal health, care and supervision is provided mostly by environmental officials.
The new regional commission is expected to be announced on Thursday.
The group would aim to set methods for observing, treating and reporting cases among government agencies.
It could also help in sharing laboratory resources.
“We are worried and we are vigilant,” Sanchez said.
“The more adaptation of the virus to mammals, the more likely it is that transmission to humans could happen.”
I’m Caty Weaver.
Caty Weaver adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by Reuters.
_______________________________________Words in This Storydetect — v. to discover or determine the existence, presence, or fact ofregion — n. an administrative area, division, or districtresponse — n. an act or instance of replying; answerevolution — n. a process of change in a certain directionpotential — adj.
existing in possibility : capable of development into actualityvigilant — adj.
alert to signs of dangeradaptation — n. modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence under the conditions of its environmentveterinarian — n. a medical doctor of animals

Since its introduction to South America in 2022, the lethal H5N1 bird flu virus is spreading more quickly than it has ever done. The continent’s marine mammals and wild birds are being killed by it.

Eight experts in bird flu science were recently interviewed by Reuters. All in all, the current spread of the virus increases the likelihood that it will pose a greater threat to humans.

The disease, which formerly primarily affected birds, now seems to be spreading among mammals, which is a cause for greater immediate concern.

In Peru and Chile, the illness has already claimed the lives of several dolphins. A minimum of 500,000 birds have been killed throughout South America, and it has also killed roughly 50,000 seals and sea lions near the coast.

Researchers still need to confirm that the virus can spread from mammal to mammal by testing infections in living animals. However, they think it’s highly likely.

“It’s almost certainly happened,” said Richard Webby. He works at St. as a virologist. Tennessee; Memphis, TN: Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Without mammal-to-mammal transmission, it is difficult to explain some of these massive infections and die offs. ****.

Numerous bird species have shown signs of infection with the same virus strain. Scientists told Reuters that migratory species are among them.

Animals displaced by climate change frequently come into contact with unfamiliar animals and viruses when they move into new areas.

According to viral ecologist Alonzo Alfaro-Nunez of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, “it’s just a matter of time before you will detect the first South American strain in North America.”.

Human peril.

An intergovernmental meeting of health experts and officials was held this week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in response to growing concerns.

The team intends to start the first regional bird flu surveillance program in history. According to a PAHO official who spoke to Reuters, the program will manage observation and response activities.

There have been two documented cases of the virus in humans on the continent since it was discovered for the first time in Colombia in October 2022. One was located in Ecuador. The other one was located in Chile. In all cases, the virus was spread by birds.

The patients made it through. However, H5N1 frequently kills. Roughly 60% of virus infections in humans result in death.

The current “low” level of H5N1 risk for humans is unlikely to be raised by the World Health Organization. According to experts, proof of human-to-human transmission or indications of viral alterations that would target people would be necessary.

A number of pharmaceutical companies have announced that they are working on human bird flu vaccinations.

“This is what the virus is doing. little evolutionary movements that could eventually lead to a human infection,” Ralph Vanstreels stated. He works as a researcher at the University of California, Davis. He is investigating H5N1 variants found in South America.

regional reaction.

Latin American nations will face pressure to expand disease surveillance in the wild as a result of this week’s meeting of experts and health officials in Rio.

Scientists are finding it difficult to comprehend how the disease is spreading in the wild due to a lack of data and limited resources in the region. The number of cases is most likely far higher than reported, according to scientists. In certain cases, laboratory testing is not conducted.

For instance, Bolivia did not record any cases in the wild for the previous year. However, Manuel Jose Sanchez Vazquez, a disease expert for PAHO’s animal health center, noted that reports of the illness have come from nearby nations.

Sanchez said it can be difficult to oversee the disease response. Threats to humans are handled by public health authorities. Health risks to farm animals, such as chickens, cows, and pigs, are handled by veterinarians and agricultural specialists. Yet, environmental officials are primarily responsible for the care and oversight of wild animal health.

On Thursday, an announcement regarding the new regional commission is anticipated. Setting procedures for monitoring, handling, and reporting cases across government agencies would be the group’s goal. It might also facilitate the sharing of lab supplies.

Sanchez declared, “We are vigilant and we are worried.”. “The likelihood of the virus spreading to humans increases with its degree of mammalian adaptation. “.”.

Caty Weaver is who I am.

This narrative was adapted by Caty Weaver for VOA Learning English from Reuters reporting.


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