Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Chile: SERNAPESCA Reports Avian H5N1 In Dead Sea Otter (Lontra feline)


Chile's National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (SERNAPESCA) reported yesterday the finding of avian H5N1 in a rare marine otter (chungungo or gato marino) which is indigenous to the coastal regions of Chile and Peru, and lives almost exclusively in salt water.

As a member of the Mustelidae family of carnivorous mammals - which includes minks, otters, badgers, weasel, martens, ferrets, and wolverines - its susceptibility to avian H5N1 is not completely unexpected, even though this is the first report we've seen in this species. 

Reports from Chile are only slowly starting to filter in. The number of mammalian infections reported to date (n=4) remain far behind what Peru has reported (see Peru: Nearly 3,500 Sea Lions Killed By H5N1 Avian Flu), but their coastline extends roughly 4,000 miles (6,435 km) making the detection, collection, and testing of sick or dying animals a difficult and time consuming task. 

Currently, they appear to be concentrating on a limited number of areas in the northern part of the country, so the impact of H5N1 on Chilean wildlife remains hard to ascertain. 

The translated press release from the Chilean government follows:

Tuesday March 7, 2023

The National Director of SERNAPESCA, Soledad Tapia Almonacid, delivered a new report on the situation of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in marine species in Chile.

“Over the weekend we were notified by the Agricultural and Livestock Service regarding a positive result for bird flu, after the laboratory results, in a chungungo stranded in Arica. This male specimen stranded dead in the vicinity of the Lluta River wetland near Las Machas beach along with other birds in the same condition, for which reason the procedure was started on suspicion with the corresponding sampling jointly with the SAG." Tapia indicated .

This is the first specimen of the Lontra felina species officially affected in our country by this bird flu. This is added to the confirmation of a third common sea lion specimen with a positive result, this time in the Tarapac√° region. The balance to date indicates that there are 4 marine mammals that have been registered with HPAI positivity. "Let's remember that until last week it was focused on the Antofagasta region, with two specimens of sea lions and two penguins, and today we already have confirmation of specimens of affected marine mammals in the Arica and Parinacota, and Tarapac√° regions," confirmed the national director of Sernapesca.

This case (chungungo) also corresponds to the variant of the H5 virus that has already been detected in wild birds in 12 regions of the country, and that is present in countries of the northern and southern hemispheres.

From the entity that oversees fishing and aquaculture activity, SERNAPESCA, they indicated that they have activated a special plan to address this contingency, on the one hand, a territorial deployment that consists of a special surveillance system in coastal areas identified as at risk, and, on the other, On the other hand, to strengthen the complaints attention system, in order to determine early cases of Avian Influenza in marine animals. In addition, work is being done in coordination with the Presidential Delegations of the regions of the northern zone where positive cases have been evidenced, the SAG, MINSAL, SENAPRED, and other regional and local authorities, such as Illustrious Municipalities.

Complementary to the measures indicated above, SERNAPESCA together with the Undersecretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture, SUBPESCA, since February of this year have carried out collaborative work at the level of authorities and with expert technical teams, in order to safeguard the health of those who carry out various jobs associated with artisanal fishing and other sectoral agents that cohabit with marine species susceptible to contagion with avian influenza, or that maintain higher levels of interactions with marine fauna, through the coordination of a series of training workshops, especially in places identified as high risk. “Through our regional directorates and the fishing zones of the Undersecretary, we are going to train our users in biosecurity measures, to avoid hazardous handling. Our interest is that men and women of the sea remain
” said Tapia.
From SERNAPESCA they insisted on the call to the public not to touch or handle marine animals stranded alive or dead, keep their distance and report immediately through the line 800 320 032.