For the first time in history, avian influenza reaches the Galápagos archipelago. Infected birds have been found on Genovesa, San Cristóbal and Punta Pitt. To prevent the spread of the viruses by humans, the Galápagos National Park Authority has already closed the first areas to tourist visits.
Avian influenza is an avian disease known in Asia, Africa, and Europe, which is fatal, leads to great losses in the birds and, in the case of caged animals, can only be controlled with appropriate hygiene measures. Avian influenza first appeared in North America in 2021 and spread from there to South America.
Avian influenza is caused by influenza A viruses. These viruses are spread preferentially by the feces of waterfowl, in which the viruses are found in the gastrointestinal tract. The viruses divide into 16 subtypes H and 9 subtypes N with numerous possible combinations. In humans, subtypes H1, H2, H3 are found to cause influenza, while H5 and H7 cause avian influenza, which occurs primarily in domestic poultry. To date, the H5N1 variant has been detected in several birds in the Galápagos.
Especially on Galápagos, with its many endemic species whose populations are rather small, this disease is a much greater threat than on the mainland. When a bird species such as the lava gull has a total population of approximately 300 individuals, a disease outbreak can cause the extinction of an entire species. Further concern is caused by the announced El Niño phase. Although the climatic phenomenon is said to be rather weak, the Galápagos penguins and flightless cormorants are always strongly affected by it. It is encouraging that the populations of the birds have stabilized through the last La Niña phases.
Biosecurity professionals carefully collect samples from a Galápagos booby showing symptoms of avian influenza H5N1, in the ongoing efforts to protect the region's unique biodiversity from the virus. © Galápagos National Park