Saturday, June 21, 2014

Penguins get sick, too
If you are intrigued by penguins, like I am, you may find this post of interest. After nearly 40 pieces related to human infection, it seemed okay to take a short break. 

I wondered recently: what pathogens infect penguins? There doesn't seem to be a large research literature on the topic, but what I found suggests that they suffer from, or at least carry, several. One study observed that some penguin species can be infected with Newcastle disease virus, infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV), and avian poxvirus. Recently it was observed that influenza viruses (H11N2) circulate in wild penguin populations (and that these viruses are genetically very distinct from avian flu viruses elsewhere in the world). Penguins can become ill with aspergillosis, and they can also suffer avian malaria caused by Plasmodium elongatum and P. relictum. Malaria seems to be a large issue for penguins in captivity.

The habitats of many penguin species tend not to overlap much with people's living spaces, though there are exceptions, like in the case of the blue penguin of southern Australia and New Zealand, which sometimes nests under houses. I suspect that it's unlikely that there is a threat to humans from infections carried by penguins, though I do wonder about ecotourism as a vector of infection to penguins. This has been discussed recently in connection with human metapneumovirus in gorillas.

If you like penguins and are interested in learning more, there is an exhaustive article on the diseases of penguins in the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's Surveillance publication from December, 2001.

(image source: Wikipedia)

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