H5N1 bird flu caused the death of over 3,300 sea lions in Chile

On Wednesday, the government released figures indicating that more than 3,300 sea lions in Chile have likely succumbed to the H5N1 bird flu, which is a two-fold increase in less than three weeks.

The outbreak has also affected various other animals, such as sea otters, dolphins, porpoises, and penguins. The National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (SERNAPESCA) has reported that there has been a significant rise in the number of sea lions found dead this year, with at least 3,347 casualties recorded so far, as opposed to 1,960 on April 6. This latest figure is twice as much as the 1,535 deaths documented by the end of March.

South American sea lions have been experiencing an unusually high mortality rate. In addition to the 3,300 sea lions in Chile that are believed to have died from avian influenza, around 3,500 sea lions in Peru, which shares a border with Chile, have also succumbed to the disease as of early March.

This raises concerns about the possibility of mammal-to-mammal transmission. Other marine species in Chile have also been impacted by the bird flu outbreak, with the Humboldt penguins being the most affected. As of now, 933 deaths have been reported this year, which is estimated to be around 8.5% of the entire Humboldt penguin population in Chile.

María Soledad Tapia Almonacid, the head of the aquaculture service, stated that the estimated total population of Humboldt penguins in their country is not very high, with no more than 11,000 individuals. This is due to their localized distribution.

She expressed concern that the current situation could result in a loss of nearly 10% of this species. Furthermore, SERNAPESCA reported that two Chilean dolphins have tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu, marking the first time that dolphins have been affected by the virus in the South American country. At least nine other Chilean dolphins have also been discovered dead.

It is believed that other marine animals, including 16 marine otters and 15 porpoises, which are closely related to narwhal and beluga whales, have also died from bird flu. In the previous month, Chile reported its first-ever case of human infection with H5N1 bird flu, which was discovered in the northern city of Tocopilla.

The 53-year-old man was last reported to be in critical but stable condition, and it is still unknown how he contracted the virus. The global spread of H5N1 clade 2.3.4.4b has raised concerns about the emergence of a future variant that could potentially transmit from human-to-human. Although there have been a few cases of human infection after contact with infected birds, the recent spread of the virus to an increasing number of mammals has added to these concerns.

On February 24, Dr. Sylvie Briand, a WHO official, expressed concern about the global situation with H5N1. She stated that the virus is widely spread in birds worldwide and that there are increasing reports of cases in mammals, including humans. She emphasized that the WHO is taking this risk seriously and is urging all countries to be extra vigilant.


H5N1 bird flu caused the death of over 3,300 sea lions in Chile

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