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Avian Influenza FAQs

Find the answers to Avian Influenza questions you may be asked by your guests this season

What is Avian Influenza?

Avian influenza is naturally found in wild birds but are typically Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) viruses. They cause no clinical signs of disease in wild birds. More concerning are viral subtypes (H5 and H7) which can become highly pathogenic in domestic birds (poultry) then escape into wild populations.

How is Avian Influenza spread?

In birds, Avian Influenza viruses are shed in the faeces and respiratory secretions. They can all be spread through direct contact with secretions from infected birds, especially through faeces or through water. Because of the resistant nature of Avian Influenza viruses, including their ability to survive for long periods when temperatures are low2, they can also be carried on clothing and equipment and spread easily from location to location. You can start your pre-expedition biosecurity now using our Don’t Pack a Pest guidance.

What is the risk of Avian Influenza to humans?

The World Organisation for Animal Health says there is a low risk of infection in humans1. To date all human infections with HPAI have been in people who work very closely for prolonged periods of time with birds such as poultry workers. Find out more.

How is the Antarctic Community Responding to Avian Influenza?

Polar stakeholders, from Antarctic Treaty parties to scientists, researchers and IAATO tour operators already have robust procedures in place to protect Antarctica from pathogens and non-native species, but due to the increase of avian influenza elsewhere in the world, we are all heightening our vigilance with regards to operations South this season.

In consultation with the SCAR Antarctic Wildlife Health Network (AWHN), additional protocols for the 2023-24 season have been introduced to IAATO’s standard biosecurity procedures. These protocols are mandatory for all IAATO Operators and their staff operating in Antarctica. They are also likely to evolve as more information and guidance regarding (HPAI) H5N1 becomes available:

In addition, Operators supporting researchers who are authorised or permitted to be in direct or close contact (less than 5m) with animals must ensure the researchers are aware of the latest advice for mitigating transmission of zoonotic disease including SARS-CoV-2 and avian influenza.

How can I help?

Here is how you can prevent Avian Influenza being introduced and spread:

 Before you go

Before you leave home ensure anything that may come into contact with the Antarctic environment – including clothing and equipment – is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

In Antarctica: Visiting Wildlife

Existing protocols, including daily biosecurity procedures and maintaining minimum distances from wildlife, are an essential part of protecting Antarctica.

In addition, it is required that you:

  • Do not sit, squat (crouch), kneel or lay down.
  • Do not place any equipment on the ground or snow.

If in doubt, ask your guides for direction.