Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has been confirmed in Brown Skua populations on Bird Island, South Georgia. These are the first known cases in the Antarctic region. It is likely the disease arrived with Skuas returning from South America where the disease is widespread.
The disease is primarily spread through natural pathways. The widespread presence of the disease in South America made it highly likely that HPAI would arrive in South Georgia in the 23/24 season. In readiness the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) had updated its guidance on HPAI risk and response, including requirements for enhanced biosecurity procedures and mitigation measures. GSGSSI has a planned tiered response in place; this can be seen in their Biosecurity Handbook (available via the link below). Currently science and visitor programmes are continuing under enhanced biosecurity measures.
It is recognised that the spread of HPAI could have serious implications for the seabird colonies at South Georgia. GSGSSI are working with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to monitor the spread of the disease and its impact on the wildlife. BAS states: “It is not possible to forecast the impacts of HPAI across South Georgia, given that the patterns of transmission and mortality in Europe and the Americas space has been highly variable. GSGSSI and BAS will continue to work together to monitor the impact of the wildlife at Bird Island, and the potential spread to other areas.”
The GSGSSI media release is available to view here.
Photo Credit: Larry Kudryk