Update on Avian Influenza

Recent cases of Avian Influenza in Europe

November 24thA healthy Common Teal Anas crecca shot by hunters in the north-east of Germany tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N8. The bird had been sampled in the frame of an active wild bird monitoring programme conducted by the German Federal State of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Intensified active monitoring of aquatic wild birds is required to gain more insight into the prevalence of these viruses in wild bird populations.

November 21st - The emergence in January 2014 of a new Highly Pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza virus in South Korea resulted in the destruction of more than 13 million birds in dozens of farms throughout the Korean peninsula.

In mid-November 2014, the strain was identified in the droppings of Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus in Japan.

Since November 6th 2014, there have been outbreaks of the same strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus A H5N8 in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK affecting commercial poultry and duck farms.

More details are available here. 

Wild birds have received the blame for spreading the disease between sites in some European press. Wild waterfowl, e.g. ducks and geese, are considered to be a natural reservoir for all type A influenza viruses and have probably carried them without apparent harm for centuries.

There is evidence that suggests that wild migratory birds can transmit avian influenza to domestic poultry, however there is no direct evidence as to their role in these recent cases as all farms contained birds that were kept inside with no outside access.

BirdLife would stress that local authorities should

  • conduct thorough epidemiological evaluation to determine the true source of the virus and mechanisms of transmission among domestic and wild birds;
  • focus disease control actions on the affected farms with the aim of minimising risk of disease spread to other poultry farms and/or wildlife;
  • ensure that affected and nearby farms are biosecure to prevent wildlife-poultry contact;
  • recognise that focusing attention on wild birds can misdirect critical resources away from effective disease control and result in negative conservation outcomes and loss of biodiversity;
  • tackle the issue of intensive livestock production which is a part of the problem.

What can be done?
The most efficient control techniques for the spread of the disease involve improved biosecurity, primarily within the poultry and associated industries to reduce the likelihood of contact between infected stock with non-infected stock, domestic stock and wild birds or infected food and water sources. This should be coupled with swift and complete culls of infected poultry flocks in the event of an outbreak. Measures should also include reducing the contact between infected poultry and humans.

Further measures that should be considered include strict controls on movements of poultry and poultry products. Such measures should apply to live birds and bird parts.