Bird Flu Kills Polar Bear, Showing Alarming Range of Disease’s Spread

Bird Flu Kills Polar Bear, Showing Alarming Range of Disease’s Spread

Since 2021, an outbreak of bird flu has swept the globe. Since then, this contagious disease is believed to have killed thousands of wild birds and other animals.

Recently, bird flu was confirmed to have killed a Polar Bear in Alaska. The bear’s death shows that the disease has spread to the most remote regions of the planet where animal populations are poorly equipped to handle the virus.

Bird flu was first identified in China in 1996. It is also known as H5N1. A contagious disease, bird flu is a variant of the influenza virus. Although it primarily affects birds, particularly wild birds, it has been known to infect humans and other mammals.

Typically, outbreaks of bird flu are seasonal. However, the current strain of H5N1 has become persistent. It has also evolved to infect multiple different species. This strain has been confirmed to be circulating in Asia, Europe, and North America.

In December of 2023, Alaskan wildlife officials confirmed that a Polar Bear in northern Alaska had died of bird flu. The bear likely contracted the virus after scavenging and consuming carcasses of infected birds.

The death of this Alaskan Polar Bear is the first confirmed death of a Polar Bear from bird flu anywhere in the world, according to a statement given by Dr. Bob Gerlach to the Alaska Beacon. However bears from other species, including black and brown bears, have died from bird flu.

The death of the Polar Bear shows that bird flu has spread to the most remote regions of the world. Cases of bird flu have also been found in the Antarctic region.

Animals in the Antarctic had previously been unexposed to the disease, prompting concern over the impact it may have on their already vulnerable populations.

Polar Bears are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Loss of sea ice is the main issue facing the large bear species.

The bears hunt and mate on the ice. However, sea ice is rapidly melting due to Climate change. This is making it increasingly difficult for Polar Bears to survive.

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This article by Willow Lynn was first published by One Green Planet on 5 January 2024. Image Credit: Popova Valeriya/Shutterstock

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