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Media Release
Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministers
for the Environment, Sport, Territories
and Local Government

Australian Research Uncovers Evidence of Poultry Virus in Penguins

14th May 1997

Australian research in the Antarctic has discovered evidence that penguins have been exposed to a virus which is known to cause immune deficiency and sometimes death in young poultry, Senator Ian Macdonald, Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic, said today (Thursday 15 May 1997).

The virus, Infectious Bursal Disease Virus or IBDV, is highly contagious and is able to survive in extreme environmental conditions, including the Antarctic.

Senator Macdonald said scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division and the CSIRO had discovered the antibodies of the virus in blood samples taken from both Antarctic penguin species, emperors and Adélies, near Australia's Mawson station.

Senator Macdonald went on to say that scientists have reported that Antarctic penguins appear to be relatively free of infectious disease, and there have been no confirmed reports of major outbreaks.

The virus, is widespread among poultry throughout the world. Australian researchers are the first to make the discovery of antibodies to the virus in the Antarctic.

"The scientists cannot say from the evidence so far gathered when or how the penguin were exposed to the virus, or what proportion of Antarctic penguins have been exposed," Senator Macdonald said.

"So far the scientific team has not been able to make a conclusive connection between signs of sickness in penguins and IBDV. Australian Antarctic Division scientists cannot at this stage say what effect the virus has on penguins," Senator Macdonald said.

The team has not yet established how the virus had been introduced, but it was possibly caused by human activities, perhaps on poultry products some time before controls over disposal of such products in the Antarctic were first imposed in the 1980s.

"There is clearly a need to examine further the paths by which such disease can enter the Antarctic, and with this in mind the Antarctic Division will be organising a workshop to look at research and monitoring programs needed and options for responding to possible disease outbreaks," Senator Macdonald said.

"This discovery highlights the value to the world’s ecosystems of ongoing Australian Antarctic research funding,"; Senator Macdonald said.

Australia will be reporting on the IBDV discovery to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting which begins in Christchurch, New Zealand, next Monday, 19 May.

For further information please contact: Phil Wood 06/277 3665

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