Wildlife officials in Alaska have confirmed the first known case of a polar bear that died from avian flu, also known as bird flu. The case highlights growing concerns about the H5N1 strain's potential spread among northern mammals.
The young bear was recently found by a biologist working in the state's remote North Slope region.
We have had birds detected with the avian influenza virus in that area. So we're making the assumption that the bear had come up onto land and had probably scavenged one of the dead or dying birds, and gotten exposed that way, Alaska's state veterinarian said.
Alaska's state veterinarian added that Alaska is trying to monitor the presence and spread of H5N1 in the state, but it can be difficult in such a vast territory.
The current global outbreak of H5N1 has led to the loss of millions of birds. The outbreak has affected some bird species in Alaska, including eagles and magpies, as well as waterfowl.
H5N1 can also infect humans, though such cases are rare and "mostly occur after close contact with infected birds or highly contaminated environments such as poultry farms or live bird markets," according to Health Canada.