Sweden records world’s first case of bird flu in a porpoise

A porpoise found stranded on a Swedish beach in June died of bird flu, the first time the virus has been detected in one of the marine mammals, Sweden's National Veterinary Institute said on Wednesday.

Sweden records world's first case of bird flu in a porpoise
Researchers at the Swedish Veterinary Institute study the dead porpoise. Photo: Rodrigo Ferrada Stoehrel/SVA.

“As far as we know this is the first confirmed case in the world of bird flu in a porpoise,” veterinarian Elina Thorsson said in a statement. “It is likely that the porpoise somehow came into contact with infected birds,” she said.

The young male was found stranded, alive, on a beach in western Sweden in late June. Despite efforts from the public to get it to swim out to deeper
waters, it was suffering from exhaustion and died the same evening.

The bird flu virus, H5N1, was found in several of its organs. “Contrary to seals, where illnesses caused by a flu virus have been detected multiple times, there have been only a handful of reports of flu virus in cetaceans”, Thorsson said.

The virus has also previously been detected in other mammals, including red foxes, otters, lynx and skunks, the institute said.

Europe and North America are currently seeing a vast outbreak of bird flu among wild birds.

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More TBE cases expected in Sweden this winter

The currently mild weather is favourable for ticks. As a result, more cases of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) are expected this winter, the Swedish Public Health Agency (FHM) warns.

More TBE cases expected in Sweden this winter

“If it (note: the weather) continues to be this mild, we can count on more TBE cases coming in,” Marika Hjertqvist, an epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency, says.

In the last five years, the FHM has seen a substantial increase in TBE cases – a trend that looks set to continue.

Number of cases on the rise

“We have looked at how climate change may affect infectious diseases in the future, and we have seen that TBE has already increased very much,” Hjertqvist says, adding that other factors can also explain the increase.

There are recommendations in place on TBE vaccination for people who live or often stay in areas with a high risk of infection.

“Ticks crawl around on your body before they bite, and in some cases, you can catch them before they bite you,” Hjertqvist says.

The regions that usually have the highest number of TBE cases are Sörmland and Uppsala, according to the FHM.