First bird flu cases in wildfowl reported in Los Angeles County this year are among those to have infected California sea lions, wildlife officials said Tuesday.
As of Wednesday, there were eight California sea lions in critical condition, Los Angeles County Public Health said in a news release. Three died, officials said.
The remaining five were on various ventilators but showed no immediate signs of improvement.
Three of the infections came to the attention of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the department said in the release.
The three California sea lions that have tested positive for the H5N1 variant of bird flu were shot and euthanized, the department said. The five other sea lions were released back into the wild.
The three fatal cases resulted in severe infections that would have eventually caused organ failure, the state medical examiner’s office said.
The six cases of the H5N1 virus reported in California sea lions in 2010 were related to birds that had passed the virus on to seals and humans.
The infection may have also spread from one California sea lion to another.
It is not known if the virus has also infected sea lions in the Pacific Ocean, which lies 1,600 miles (2,730 kilometers) to the east. There is no evidence of infection in California sea lions on the north or west coasts of the country.
A new type of bird flu virus has come to the attention of bird flu experts at the CDC, which is the nation’s leading agency for combating the bird flu virus.
One of 13 new variants of a virus that is spread primarily by migratory birds has been identified in wild bird populations in parts of China and Russia.
The virus is now widespread in migratory areas of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. The virus has been identified in wild birds in the United States and at least six other countries.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the CDC say it’s “currently too early to draw conclusions” about how the virus could be spreading to people, but that some of the wild birds appear to have the virus circulating in the wild.
In a press release the USDA said:
“This virus is similar to the H2N3, which was first identified in the U.S. in late December 2009,