Bird flu kills hundreds of sea lions in Peru

STORY: This baby sea lion was a reluctant participant in a recent nasal swab test in Peru, where more than 700 sea lions have died of bird flu, as veterinarians and health experts worked to understand an alarming outbreak of the virus that has spread to mammals.

Javier Jara is a veterinarian with Peru's National Forestry and Wildlife Service.

"What we remember initially started with pelicans last year, now it’s affecting these marine mammals."

In recent weeks, crews in protective plastic suits have collected and buried hundreds of sea lions from several beaches along Peru's central coast.

According to government data, Peru recorded its first case of the virus in birds in November and since then 63,000 birds have died from the disease.

The World Organization for Animal Health said bird flu has killed more than 200 million birds across the globe since the beginning of 2021, either from the disease or mass culling.

On Monday, incoming chief scientist at the World Health Organization said governments should invest in vaccines for all strains of bird flu that exist in the animal kingdom as an insurance policy in case of an outbreak in humans.

The United States, Britain, France and Japan have all suffered record losses of poultry in outbreaks of avian flu in the past year.

The WHO said earlier this month that the recent spread to mammals needed to be monitored, but that the risk to humans remained low.