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article imageBird flu found in penguins

By Tim Sandle     May 10, 2014 in Science
Melbourne - Researchers report that they have identified, for the first time, a strain of avian influenza that infects Adélie penguins.
Scientists have suspected that bird flu was circulating among penguins in Antarctica for some time; until now they have been unable to verify this notion. The reason for their suspicion is that blood samples from the birds contained antibodies to influenza but no trace of the virus had been found.
This week things have taken a different path. A study published in the journal mBio describes unusual H11N2 strains infecting Adélie penguins. The researchers collected blood samples and throat and cloaca swabs from a few hundred penguins, eight of which tested positive for avian influenza virus. The Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) is a species of penguin common along the entire Antarctic coast, which is their only residence. They are among the most southerly distributed of all seabirds.
Aeron Hurt, a senior research scientist at the WHO [World Health Organization] Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, Australia, has described the virus in a research note: "We found that this virus was unlike anything else detected in the world. When we drew phylogenetic trees to show the evolutionary relationships of the virus, all of the genes were highly distinct from contemporary [avian influenza viruses] circulating in other continents in either the Northern or Southern Hemisphere."
A genetic analysis showed that one of the more closely related viruses to the penguins’ strains was an H3N8 strain from the 1960s. The team noted that infected birds did not appear sick. Furthermore, when the researchers exposed the virus to ferrets, they didn’t catch the flu, indicating that it’s not transmissible to the mammals.
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