New bird flu found in Antarctic penguins

Adélie penguins carry a new kind of bird flu called H11N2. The strain appears to cause asymptomatic infections in the birds.

Jerzy Strzelecki/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Guest post by Beth Mole

Antarctica’s Adélie penguins carry an avian flu virus that is unlike any other virus circulating in birds worldwide. Designated H11N2, the virus was found in less than 3 percent of the 301 formally attired birds tested and the infection is asymptomatic, researchers report online May 6 in mBio.

The virus carries genetic elements that resemble flu strains that circulated in the Americas between the 1960s and 1980s and may have diverged from an ancestral virus between 49 and 80 years ago.

The study is the first to identify a bird flu virus in Antarctica, which has the potential to act as an unchecked source or sink for disease. Other flu viruses, perhaps delivered by migratory birds, could devastate naive penguin populations, the author’s note.




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