Polar bear found dead in Alaska’s Utqiagvik community is the first of its kind to die from bird flu

Unprecedented Case: Alaskan Polar Bear Succumbs to Bird Flu – 


In a distressing development, an Alaskan polar bear has become the first of its species to succumb to bird flu, marking a significant occurrence as the highly pathogenic avian influenza continues its global spread.

The polar bear, already listed as threatened on the endangered species list, was discovered lifeless in October near Utqiagvik, Alaska—the northernmost community in the United States.

Confirmation of the bear’s cause of death emerged on December 6 when Alaska’s state veterinarian identified the avian influenza as the culprit, marking the world’s inaugural fatal case of bird flu in polar bears.


Unique Circumstances and Environmental Impact


Dr. Bob Gerlach, Alaska’s state veterinarian, reported this unprecedented case to the World Organization for Animal Health, emphasizing its singular nature.

Polar bears typically feed on seals, but in this instance, it is speculated that the bear contracted the virus by consuming a deceased bird.

Gerlach highlighted the environmental conditions and the nature of the disease, asserting that direct ingestion of an infected bird was not necessary for the polar bear to fall ill.

The virus can endure in the environment, particularly in cold settings, suggesting the bear may have been exposed indirectly.


Global Outbreak and its Impact on Wildlife


The recent outbreak of bird flu infiltrated North America in December 2021, beginning in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

Subsequently, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) EA H5 and EA H5N1 viruses have been identified in diverse settings, including wild birds, domestic flocks, commercial poultry facilities, and even wild mammals across Canada and the United States.

While the current threat to human health remains low, the virus is causing significant devastation among wild bird populations and domestic poultry worldwide.


International Response and USDA Monitoring


Concerned about the risk of introducing the bird flu to the United States, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) imposed restrictions on poultry imports from several countries.

The USDA, actively monitoring the outbreak since February 8, 2022, reported detections of the bird flu in 1,059 poultry flocks across 47 states, encompassing both commercial and backyard flocks.

Furthermore, wild birds have been significantly affected, with 8,547 detections reported since January 1, 2022.


Unexpected Impact on Wildlife: Mammalian Cases and Economic Implications


Surprisingly, cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza have been documented in various mammalian species between 2022 and 2023, including seals, skunks, mountain lions, red foxes, raccoons, and even a bottlenose dolphin.

Beyond the ecological ramifications, the avian flu has also impacted the economy, with the worst avian flu outbreak in years contributing to rising prices for eggs.

Although prices experienced a temporary decline, recent data analysis indicates a resurgence in “eggflation” in the United States, witnessing an 11.4 percent increase in egg prices during November.

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