The Risk of Avian Influenza in the Southern Ocean: A practical guide

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Meagan Dewar, Michelle Wille, Amandine Gamble, Ralph Vanstreels, Thierry Boulinier, Adrian Smith, Arvind Varsani, Norman Ratcliffe, Jennifer Black, Amanda Lynnes


Advice from Avian Influenza experts suggests that there is a high risk that Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza will arrive in the Southern Ocean 2022/23-2024/25 austral summers.
Since the beginning of 2022, the increasing intensity of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 outbreaks has resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of seabirds in the Northern Hemisphere, around the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and southern Africa. The SCAR Antarctic Wildlife Health Working Group (AWHWG) is highly concerned about the likely arrival and subsequent impact HPAI H5N1 might have on Southern Ocean wildlife. Due to the heightened risk of HPAI being introduced to Antarctica during the the 2022/23 Austral summer by migrating seabirds, the AWHWG recommends that:
People working with or close to wildlife should assume that HPAI will arrive in the sub-Antarctic and Antarctica and take precautions to protect themselves when working around wildlife (including appropriate PPE) and maintain the highest biosecurity to prevent transmission between wildlife aggregations.
All National Programmes (NPs) and tourism operators should monitor colonies for signs of H5N1 before approaching, especially in migratory species such as skuas, gulls and giant petrels. Tourists should not enter colonies and high wildlife density areas with suspected HPAI and NPs should conduct risk analysis as to which activities need to continue.
A more detailed protocol on how to assess wildlife aggregations for HPAI prior to a visit and what to do if HPAI is detected should be provided to all stakeholders physically present in Antarctica this season.
If you detect signs of HPAI, you should report this to your permit issuer. Videos of affected animals are very helpful for experts to help determine whether or not this is HPAI.
Operators should refresh themselves with and review all biosecurity and any response guidelines to unusual/mass mortality events.
This document aims to:
Outline the likely risk to Southern Ocean taxa (a more technical assessment will follow in a separate document).
Suggest which risks can be mitigated in light of human activity, transmission into and out of Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic regions through all operators as well as movements between sites within the Southern Ocean (primarily for science and tourism),
Start discussion with National Programmes about ongoing monitoring for disease and consequences.



Animal Sciences, Biology, Immunology and Infectious Disease, Life Sciences


Antarctica, Avian Influenza, Infectious disease, Seabirds, sub-Antarctic


Published: 2022-08-22 02:32

Last Updated: 2022-09-23 02:25

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