Uruguay confirms first case of avian flu in sea lions

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A sea lion swims near Isla de Lobos, about 8 km off the coast of Punta del Este, Maldonado, 140 km east of Montevideo on April 20, 2022 (Pablo PORCIUNCULA)

Uruguayan authorities have confirmed the first case of avian influenza in a sea lion and warned that there are other suspected cases along the country’s coast, urging the population not to go near these animals, whether dead or alive.

On Tuesday, September 5, the first case of H5 avian flu was detected in a wild mammal in Uruguay: a sea lion found dead on Cerro Beach in Montevideo, the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries (MGAP) reported in an explanation.

The animal was first seen on Thursday, August 31, with compatible symptoms and checked on September 2, the day all appropriate swabs were taken, he said.

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“We’re waiting for the sequencing to find out if it’s an animal that ate a carrier bird (of the virus) or if it was a matter of interspecies transmission,” MGAP head Fernando Mattos told ET Channel 10 Newscast Underlined.

“Hopefully this is a case that has been affected by the current. We know the virus is circulating in Argentina,” he added.

In neighboring Argentina, a bird flu epidemic has already claimed the lives of a hundred sea lions along the long Atlantic coast, official sources reported last week.

Mattos said there is currently no reported active case of this disease in the bird population in Uruguay.

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Uruguayan authorities on August 16 temporarily suspended the bird flu health emergency declared on February 15 for 60 days after a case was discovered in a black-necked swan in the Laguna Garzón area of ​​the east of the country.

The MGAP said it made this decision 80 days after the last outbreak occurred, but clarified that it is maintaining the preventive measures in place nationwide.

According to the World Health Organization, since 2020 avian flu has resulted in an “unprecedented” number of deaths in wild birds and poultry in many countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. The virus spread to North America in 2021 and Central and South America in 2022.

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After confirming this first case in a marine mammal, MGAP urged the public not to let pets near or over fenced-off areas to prevent contamination and spread of the disease.

Avian influenza infection in humans is very rare, but when it does occur it can cause serious illness with a high mortality rate.

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