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Icebergs in Antarctica

Photo: Juan Barreto / AFP

A deadly form of bird flu has been detected for the first time on land in Antarctica.

The H5N1 virus was detected by Argentine and Spanish scientists in dead skuas found near the Antarctic station Primavera earlier this year.

This was stated by the Argentine Antarctic Institute and the Supreme Council for Scientific Studies in Spain.

The bird flu virus reached Antarctica "despite the distance and the natural barriers that separate it from other continents," the researchers write.

This now poses a potential threat to the huge penguin colonies.

Hundreds of thousands of penguins live in densely packed colonies on the Antarctic continent.

The deadly virus could now easily spread there.

Bird species that have never been in contact with bird flu are considered particularly at risk.

Until now, Antarctica was considered one of the last regions, along with Australia and Oceania, to be spared from the current bird flu outbreak.

At the end of October, the pathogen had already been detected in birds on the small island of Bird Island in the Southern Ocean, and at the end of January in elephant seals and fur seals near Antarctica.

Scientists agree that the animal world is now experiencing what humanity has just experienced with the corona pandemic - the global spread of an infectious disease caused by a highly contagious and deadly virus.

Tens of thousands of seabirds and mammals have already died from the virus - in the Northern Hemisphere, southern Africa, the Atlantic, the Pacific and South America.

Researchers are worried about numerous species.

Sick birds spread the pathogen primarily through their droppings, but the disease can also be transmitted from dead birds via scavengers.