At least 57 sea lions on the Atlantic coast of Argentina have died of bird flu, the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) has confirmed. The organisation calls the sea lions ‘an unusual host species’ while the source of the event or origin of infection is unknown or inconclusive.
Earlier, the environmental authority of the Patagonia region on the southern tip of the country reported at least 50 dead specimens ‘with symptoms compatible with avian influenza’. The Argentinian National Service of Agrifood Health and Quality (Senasa) confirmed several cases of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5 in dead sea lions from a large stretch of coastline, local media report. However, other dead animals tested negative for avian flu, while a number of dead seals are still under analysis.
According to Senasa, sea lions contract the disease from sick wild birds. “It is a matter of research, and we are working with other countries with the same findings to determine if there were mutations of the virus that are being transmitted from mammal to mammal.”
Authorities have closed off several beaches and seawalks to prevent people from getting in contact with dead animals. Senasa also warned the public not to handle dead animals or visit poultry establishments or wild animal settlements after having been in contact with dead animals.