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Daily News Analysis


31st October, 2023 Health

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Picture Courtesy: Firstpost

Context: The detection of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in the Antarctic region is a concerning development.

Key Highlights

First Known Case in Antarctica

This is the first known case of HPAI in the Antarctic region, specifically on Bird Island, South Georgia.

The presence of the virus in this remote area raises concerns for local wildlife, particularly penguins and seals. Given their limited exposure to such diseases in the past, the introduction of HPAI could lead to a rapid spread and devastating impact on these populations.

Preserving the health of these species is critical not only for their survival but also for maintaining the delicate balance of the entire Antarctic ecosystem.

Source of the Virus

The researchers suggest that the virus may have reached the Antarctic region from South America. This is consistent with the pattern of the virus's spread, with reports of outbreaks in South America in 2022 and 2023.

Impact on Wildlife

Avian influenza, especially the H5 and H7 strains, primarily affect birds and can be highly pathogenic.

The virus can cause high mortality in wild bird populations and it is known to spread among birds and mammals.

The researchers have identified vulnerable wildlife groups, including gulls, skuas, birds of prey, terns, shorebirds, fur seals, sea lions, southern elephant seals, and dolphins.

Global Concern

The global concern is that HPAI, if not contained, can lead to a decline in breeding populations of fragile wildlife in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions.

The virus can be transmitted through predators and scavengers feeding on infected birds, which could lead to its spread among different species.

Rapid Spread

The virus has demonstrated rapid spread in South America, impacting seabirds and marine mammals, causing significant outbreaks and even leading to the deaths of sea lions. This rapid spread is alarming, and it underscores the need for monitoring and containment efforts.

Geographic Vulnerability

The researchers highlight that sub-Antarctic islands between the southernmost tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula, including the Falkland Islands, are at the highest risk due to the presence of vulnerable wildlife groups in these areas.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)

  • HPAI is caused by various strains of the influenza A virus, primarily H5N1 and H7N9. These viruses naturally occur in wild birds, especially waterfowl, without causing severe illness.
  • The exact origin of HPAI can be challenging to trace, but it is believed that domestic poultry, such as chickens and ducks, can become infected through contact with wild birds, contaminated water, or contaminated surfaces.


  • HPAI spreads among birds through direct contact with infected birds' bodily fluids, such as saliva, nasal secretions, and faeces. It can also spread indirectly through contaminated feed, water, equipment, and clothing.
  • Human infections usually occur through close contact with infected birds or their environments.
  • Limited human-to-human transmission has been reported in some cases, but it is not sustained. Human-to-human transmission is a significant concern, as it could potentially lead to a widespread outbreak.


In Birds

In Humans

Sudden increase in deaths in poultry

Decreased egg production

Swelling of the head, neck, and eyes

Nasal discharge

Coughing, sneezing

Lack of energy and appetite




Sore throat

Muscle aches

Shortness of breath

Conjunctivitis (eye redness)

Severe respiratory illnesses (e.g., pneumonia)

Multi-organ failure

Death (in severe cases)

Prevention and Cure

  • There is no specific cure for HPAI in humans. Antiviral medications like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) can be administered to reduce the severity and duration of the illness if given early in the infection. Supportive care, including mechanical ventilation in severe cases, is crucial.
  • In poultry, culling infected and exposed birds, strict biosecurity measures, and vaccination (where applicable) are common strategies to control the spread of the virus.
  • Vaccination is an essential tool in preventing outbreaks in domestic poultry, although it might not provide complete immunity.
  • Prevention and early detection are key in controlling HPAI. Proper cooking of poultry products, maintaining good hygiene practices, and avoiding contact with sick birds or contaminated environments are crucial preventive measures for humans.


  • Efforts to contain and study the spread of HPAI in the Antarctic region are essential to protect the unique and vulnerable ecosystems in this remote part of the world. Ongoing monitoring and research are crucial for understanding the potential impacts and mitigating further spread of the virus.

Must Read Articles:

Avian Influenza Viruses: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/avian-influenza-viruses

Bird Flu:  https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/bird-flu-30


Q. Consider the following statements in the context of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI):

1. It primarily spreads among birds through direct contact with infected birds' bodily fluids.

2. It can be cured in humans with appropriate antibiotics.

3. It can cause increased egg production and swelling of the head, neck, and eyes in infected birds.

How many of the above statements is/are correct?

A. Only one

B. Only two

C. All three

D. None

Answer: A


Statement 1 is correct: Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) primarily spreads among birds through direct contact with infected birds' bodily fluids like saliva, nasal secretions, and faeces.

Statement 2 is incorrect: Avian influenza, including Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), is caused by influenza A viruses. Antiviral medications like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) can be used to treat influenza in humans, but these medications are not antibiotics. Additionally, the effectiveness of antiviral treatment depends on the specific strain of the virus and how quickly the treatment is initiated. It's not accurate to say that it can be "cured" in humans, and antibiotics do not work against viruses.

Statement 3 is incorrect: Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in birds can cause a wide range of clinical signs, including respiratory signs, swelling of the head, neck, and eyes, drop in egg production, and high mortality rates. However, increased egg production is not a typical symptom of avian influenza in infected birds.