H5N8 avian influenza: EFSA assesses entry routes into Europe

The precise route of introduction of the H5N8 virus into Europe still remains uncertain, says a scientific report of EFSA that has been generated in collaboration with Member States and the EU Reference Laboratory. 

It is plausible that the virus has entered poultry farms in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom indirectly, through material contaminated by infected wild birds - such as human activities, movement of vehicles or equipment. As all affected farms use indoor housing facilities, experts conclude that a direct transmission from wild birds to farmed poultry is unlikely. 

Experts say that there are no known direct migration routes from East Asia to Europe. One hypothesis is that infected migratory birds from East Asia transmit the virus to other species at breeding and stopover places in Eurasia, but this hypothesis needs further investigation. 

As of today, the highly contagious avian influenza virus has been reported in Republic of Korea, Japan, China, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The first outbreak was reported in Republic of Korea in January 2014. In Europe, the first affected holding was reported on 4 November 2014 in a turkey farm in Germany. The virus was then confirmed at a duck farm in the United Kingdom, and at five poultry farms (four chicken, one duck farm) in the Netherlands. 

EFSA recommends assessing biosecurity procedures at farms and improving them where necessary. They also recommend implementing targeted surveillance of wild birds in high risk areas and further investigation of possible entry routes of H5N8 into Europe. They stress that national and European laboratories and risk assessment institutions should keep cooperating to ensure timely analyses of the situation within the EU.