Harbor Seals Afflicted with Bird Flu

NEW ENGLAND: When 162 dead harbor seals, all afflicted with pneumonia, washed up along the New England coast last fall, a team of scientists investigated their cause of death. As published on mBio, an American Society for Microbiology journal, in July, researchers found that the seals died of an avian H3N8 influenza A virus. According to the report: “The emergence of new strains of influenza virus is always of great public concern, especially when the infection of a new mammalian host has the potential to result in a widespread outbreak of disease…This outbreak is particularly significant, not only because of the disease it caused in seals but also because the virus has naturally acquired mutations that are known to increase transmissibility and virulence in mammals.” Although there have been no reports of affected seals in East End waters, there is still the possibility of transmission, as local seals can who migrate to New England can potentially pick up the disease. If a dead seal is found ashore, the public is advised to stay at least 150 feet away and to call the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation at 631-369-9840.

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