31 Jul '12, 1pm
A new strain of bird flu virus is killing baby seals in the US, study says
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A new kind of bird flu has been causing deadly pneumonia in baby seals off the north-eastern US coast and could pose a risk to humans, according to US research released on Tuesday. The new strain has been named avian H3N8, and is blamed for the deaths of 162 seals along the US coastlines last year, said the study in mBio, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology. Most of the dead seals were younger than six months of age. While there have been no known human cases to date, scientists at Columbia University in New York urged caution, given the history of bird flu and its ability to evolve into forms that can infect people, like H5N1. "Our findings reinforce the importance of wildlife surveillance in predicting and preventing pandemics," said W. Ian Lipkin, professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.