Avian Influenza

H5N1, commonly referred to as avian influenza, is a subtype of the influenza A virus that can cause illness in humans and animals. Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease which occurs primarily in poultry and other birds. Pigs can also be carriers of these viruses as well as of other influenza viruses normally affecting birds and humans and they may act as hosts for influenza viruses to produce new strains.

Avian influenza can be transmitted to humans and other animals through direct contact with infected  birds. There is no evidence that avian influenza be transmitted to humans through the consumption of contaminated food, notably poultry products and eggs. Safe handling of raw meat and other raw food ingredients, thorough cooking and good kitchen hygiene can prevent or reduce the risks posed by contaminated food.

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EFSA’s role is to provide EU risk managers with independent scientific advice and scientific assistance on the animal health and welfare dimension of avian influenza and any possible food safety issues. Since the risk of avian influenza was first identified, EFSA has issued a substantial body of scientific advice to assist risk managers in making appropriate decisions and actions. To carry out its scientific work, EFSA exchanges information with national food safety authorities, the European Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and other international organisations active in this field.

EFSA has provided scientific advice on the food safety aspects of avian influenza confirming that there is no available epidemiological evidence that avian influenza can be transmitted to humans through consumption of food.

EFSA has also issued advice on the animal health and welfare aspects of avian influenza, providing information on the risks of the virus entering and spreading amongst poultry in Europe and making recommendations to prevent existing risks. This report provided the scientific basis for risk management measures put into place in Europe to protect animals from avian influenza.

In addition, EFSA has advised on the role of migratory birds in the spread of the H5N1 form of avian influenza. It identified free range, backyard flocks and poultry holdings near wetlands as being most at risk, listed the bird species which are more likely to expose domestic poultry to H5N1 through either close contact or shared water and soil, and made recommendations for risk management measures.

EU legislation on avian influenza is laid down in Directive 2005/94/EEC which sets out rules on the surveillance, control and eradication measures to be taken in the event of a highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak.

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E.g., 08/24/2016
E.g., 08/24/2016
26 November 2014
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What is avian influenza?

Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease which occurs primarily in poultry and other birds. The European Commission has stepped up preventive measures against avian influenza, in response to the threat of H5N1.

What scientific work has EFSA carried out in relation to avian influenza?

EFSA provides objective scientific advice on all matters with a direct or indirect impact on food and feed safety, including animal health and welfare and plant protection. With respect to avian influenza, EFSA has been active on two levels within its remit: on animal health and welfare and on food safety issues. EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) has prepared a Scientific Opinion and Report on the animal health and welfare aspects of avian influenza. EFSA has also issued a press release on the food safety aspects of avian influenza.

In view of the developing situation in relation to avian influenza, EFSA’s Scientific Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) is keeping this issue under constant review. EFSA is also in regular contact and shares information on avian influenza with the European Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and International Organisations.

Can I get avian influenza through eating food?

On present evidence, humans who have acquired the infection have been in direct contact with infected live or dead birds. There is no epidemiological evidence to date that avian influenza can be transmitted to humans through consumption of food, notably poultry and eggs.

What is EFSA’s advice on food safety issues related to avian influenza?

EFSA and other organisations such as the WHO generally support longstanding food safety advice that chicken and eggs be properly cooked in order to protect consumers from possible risks of food poisoning. Thoroughly cooking poultry meat and eggs also eliminates viruses, thereby providing further safety assurance in the unlikely event that H5N1 virus be present in raw poultry products entering the food chain. In order to prevent avian influenza from entering the food chain, the European Commission and EU Member States have put into place strict measures to control imports from affected countries outside the EU and to contain its spread in Member States where the virus has been detected amongst wild and migratory birds.

What about public health aspects of the disease?

Public health aspects of avian influenza are addressed by the European Commission , the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and authorities in the Member States. Public health authorities in the EU are also working in close collaboration with international organisations such as WHO. We would recommend that you contact these organisations for further information on these aspects.

Are there any additional sources of information on avian influenza available from other EU and International organisations?