Birds in Alaska’s interior have been found to be infected with malaria, with some experts warning that a warming climate might be the reason for the mosquito-borne disease’s advance north.
Scientists had not previously detected malaria transmission in local birds at such a northern latitude in North America, a study in the journal PLOS One said, according to Reuters.
“We now have shown that malaria is being transmitted in Alaska,” Ravinder Sehgal, a San Francisco State University biologist and a lead researcher on the project, said, Reuters reports.
Out of 676 birds tested, 7.2 were found to be infected with malaria, with black-capped chickadees one of the most affected birds.
The disease has been spotted in Alaska before in tropical birds that migrated north carrying the disease, but there had not previously been any documented cases of the disease spreading to non-migratory Alaska birds or birds that hatched in Alaska before flying south.
Sehgal said that increasing periods of warm weather during Alaska’s summer may allow the parasite to grow in Alaska.
According to the study, temperatures in the Arctic have risen at almost twice the global average, Reuters reports.
Avian malaria, Sehgal said, is different from the type of malaria that infects animals.
“Certainly, it is not going to spread to humans,” Sehgal said, according to Reuters.