Avian influenza: virus spreading rapidly in Europe

The risk of avian influenza moving into previously unaffected European countries is high, according to an update published today by EFSA which shows that the virus is spreading rapidly across the continent.

Within the past month more than 300 cases have been reported in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The majority of the detections were in wild birds although there have been a handful of outbreaks in poultry. The new report rates the likelihood of the virus spreading from wild birds to poultry as high.

In its previous overview EFSA warned that highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) could spread quickly to western Europe following outbreaks among wild and domestic birds in western Russia and Kazakhstan this summer. The region is on the autumn migration route for wild water birds heading to Europe.

No human cases have been detected in the new outbreaks so far and the risk of transmission to the general public remains very low. However, the evolution of the viruses needs to be closely monitored to assess the ongoing risk of viruses emerging that can be transmitted to humans.

Nik Kriz, Head of EFSA’s Animal and Plant Health Unit, said: “Preventing further escalation of these outbreaks will require close cooperation between animal, public, environmental and occupational health authorities – in other words, a One Health approach – across Europe.” 

National authorities are urged to continue surveillance of wild birds and poultry and to implement control measures to prevent human contact with infected or dead birds. Member States are also advised to enforce in their high-risk areas the risk mitigation and reinforced biosecurity measures outlined in Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2018/1136.

The sharing of complete viral genome sequences is crucial so that authorities can promptly detect the emergence of novel viruses or genetic mutations with properties that are relevant for animal and public health.

The report was produced with the support of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Reference Laboratory for Avian Influenza.

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