High pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI), commonly referred to as “bird flu”, has been confirmed in mammals inhabiting South Georgia, a remote island located in the South Atlantic Ocean that is a UK territory.
Bird flu confirmed in dead elephant and fur seals
In October 2023, several brown skua died on Bird Island, which lies off the nort-west tip of South Georgia. This raised suspicions that HPAI had been introduced to this remote area of the world.
Now, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) – an executive agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of the UK – confirms that samples from dead elephant seals, fur seals, kelp gulls and Antarctic terns have tested positive for HPAI H5N1.
What is high pathogenicity avian influenza?
Avian influenza A viruses are categorized as either low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) A viruses, or HPAI A viruses. The latter can cause severe disease and mortality in poultry. Though it is rare for avian influenza A viruses to infect people, five subtypes are known to have caused human infections, including H5 viruses.
From 2003 to 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) documented 878 cases of HPAI H5N1 infection in humans.