The more than 160 harbor seals that were found washed up dead from southern Maine to northern Massachusetts last fall have been found to have contracted pneumonia after being infected with a new strain of avian flu.
The research, published in mBio, found that the virus responsible for infecting the seals came from a new strain of the avian H3N8 influenza virus, which has been found in North American waterfowl for the past decade, but that now has the ability to infect mammals as well.
Report editor Anne Moscona of Weill Cornell Medical College says, "There is a concern that we have a new mammalian-transmissible virus to which humans haven't been exposed yet. Flu could emerge from anywhere and our readiness has to be much better than we previously realized. We need to be very nimble in our ability to identify and understand the potential risks posed by new viruses emerging from unexpected sources." (Science Daily)
It has not been confirmed that the new strain of flu has passed from mammal to mammal, but that well may be the case, Moscona says. Furthermore, she adds, a bird flu could ever infect seals is something that simply hadn't been widely considered. Both factors create concern that the flu may at some point be a potential threat to humans.
Read the original research: Emergence of Fatal Avian Influenza in New England Harbor Seals