Avian Influenza

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.

EFSA's role

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 framework

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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Last updated: 15 December 2014