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New Tick-Borne Viruses Are Discovered In…..Antarctica?

January 29th, 2018

New Tick-Borne Viruses Are Discovered In…..Antarctica?

When it comes to animal life in Arctic regions, the only image that comes to mind is of a penguin. Certainly insects could never survive in freezing cold arctic regions, right? Actually, a select few insect species do dwell within arctic regions, and a species of tick is among these select few. The tick species known as Ixodes uriae is a globally distributed tick species. Not only does a common tick dwell within Arctic regions, but these ticks spread diseases to penguins. In fact, researchers have recently discovered four new tick-borne viruses that have never been described before, and these viruses were found in the bloodstreams of several penguins.

On the sub-Antarctic island of Macquarie several different types of penguins were found to be carrying never before seen tick-borne viruses. These different penguins included, king, royal and rockhopper penguins. According to Professor Andreas Suhrbier, of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, these new tick-borne diseases are not likely to infect humans. The four viruses are described as “seabird viruses”. Despite the fact that these four new viruses are seabird viruses, an immunosuppressed individual may still become infected if bitten by a tick carrying one of the four viruses. However, even in these cases, the chances that a human will contract one of these viruses is incredibly low since Ixodes uriae does not seem to have a taste for human blood.

Surprisingly, these four newly discovered viruses do not seem to have a significant impact on penguin populations. Despite the Ixodes uriae taste for bird blood, penguin populations have been increasing steadily since 1933. Although these ticks may seem harmless to humans, researchers cannot know for sure how all human populations would respond to bites from ticks that carry one of these four viruses. If the migratory patterns of Arctic birds change due to climate change, birds carrying these viral ticks may fly to new locations where the ticks could possibly become a public health issue.

Do you believe that the next epidemic-level disease may possibly originate from a part of the world where human activity is scarce?

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