Shrinking Arctic ice linked to spread of deadly animal virus

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PARIS, Nov 8, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – The decline in Arctic sea ice sparked by
global warming is already forcing animals, including the polar bear, to adapt
or die — but now scientists warn it could also be exposing them to new,
deadly diseases.

A 15-year study led by Tracey Goldstein at University of California, Davis,
found evidence to link Phocine Distemper Virus (PDV), which killed thousands
of European harbour seals in the North Atlantic in 2002, with the presence of
the virus in sea otters off Alaska in 2004.

How did it get there?

The prime suspect appears to be shrinking Arctic sea ice which is radically
reshaping the region for both animals and mankind.

That includes new channels opening up along northern Russia and Canada
through which animals — and disease — can pass.

“In addition to influencing animal nutrition and physiological stress,
environmental shifts may drive exposure to new pathogens,” says the study,
published in Scientific Reports on Thursday.

“By altering animal behaviour and removing physical barriers, loss of sea
ice may create new pathways for animal movement and introduction of
infectious diseases into the Arctic.”

The study reported there was widespread PDV exposure and infection across
the North Pacific beginning in 2003, with a peak that year and again in 2009.

“Peaks of PDV exposure and infection followed reductions in Arctic ice
extent,” it said.

“Association of open water routes through Arctic sea ice with increased PDV
exposure or infection suggest that opportunities for PDV and other pathogens
to cross between North Atlantic and North Pacific marine mammal populations
may become more common,” the study concluded.

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