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Arctic sea ice melting can cause the spread of a deadly virus to marine mammals



Arctic sea ice melts have opened new paths for Arctic and sub-Arctic species to interact, and this contact has introduced a potentially deadly virus to mammals in Northern Pacific Ocean, according to a new study in Scientific Reports.

In 15 years, researchers have identified two new channels linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans between Russia and Alaska. The animals that live there interact for the first time, creating a reservoir of the deadly pathogen Phocine distemper virus.

The virus, also known as PDV, was first identified in European seaports, killing thousands in 1988 and again in 2002. It re-emerged in 2004, but this time in the northern seas of seas in Alaska.

It's surprising that the disease has jumped to different species in the ocean, says study author Tracey Goldstein, associate director of the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. This is why scientists believe that melting ice is to blame for the spread of the infection.

"Animal health and human health and environmental health are strongly linked, if one person gets worse then the rest is just as well," he told CNN.

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To assess the extent of the infection, researchers took nasal cavity and blood samples from more than 2,500 seals living on ice, Steller sea lions and northern seas from Alaska in Russia living in marginal seas and oceans.

Widespread exposure to infection has plummeted twice, in 2003 and 2009. Both outbreaks precede record-low sea ice, Goldstein said.

Ice is important for marine mammals, he said. Here they are together, resting and giving birth. When the water temperature is warm, their food is likely to travel deep into the ocean, so animals are still traveling to catch them, spreading the pathogen in large swaths of the north sea.

Animals cannot keep up with the rate of their rapidly changing environments, Goldstein said, and make them more susceptible to disease.

PDV has already been implicated in humans

Goldstein compared PDV to measles in humans – the same highly contagious respiratory diseases that spread through contact ( even though PDV does not infect humans).

But this does not directly affect humans who depend on animals. It is more difficult for Alaskans to hunt and maintain their livelihood as seals and fish migrate offshore, he said.

Because the Arctic is so remote, it is difficult to know how many species have died from the virus since the study began, he said. Some, especially European port seals, are weaker against others – up to 50% of the harbor seal population died in the first two outbreaks, he said. lowest. The Arctic sea ice cap hit its second lowest level in 2019, according to NASA – and that could mean new paths opened up, linking wildlife together and increasing the likelihood of re-entry. virus production.

Removing the virus may be impossible, but people can at least stop it from spreading, Goldstein said. Reducing the global carbon footprint can slow down the effects of climate change and give animals an opportunity to adapt and adapt.


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