Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease which occurs primarily in poultry and wild water birds.
Avian influenza viruses are either high or low pathogenic viruses (HPAI and LPAI, respectively) depending on the molecular characteristic of the virus and its ability to cause disease and mortality in chickens.
Poultry infected with LPAI viruses may show mild signs of the disease or none at all. Infections caused by HPAI can cause death. Both HPAI and LPAI can spread quickly through flocks. Moreover, LPAI viruses can mutate into highly pathogenic strains, which is why it is important that outbreaks are managed promptly.
The 2016/2017 epidemic of HPAI A(H5N8) was the largest recorded in the EU in terms of number of poultry outbreaks, geographical spread and number of dead wild birds.
Avian influenza can be transmitted from animals to humans in two main ways:
- Directly from birds or from contaminated environments.
- Through an intermediate host, such as a pig.
There is no evidence that avian influenza can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of contaminated poultry products. 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, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the EU reference laboratory on avian influenza publish quarterly updates on the presence of avian influenza in Europe and around the world. The latest report – for May-August 2020 – includes a warning to EU countries to step up surveillance and biosecurity measures following outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) among wild and domestic birds in western Russia and Kazakhstan.
EFSA has issued a substantial body of scientific advice to assist risk managers in making appropriate decisions and actions. Experts assessed issues such as the risk of transmission and spread of avian influenza, and the risk of LPAI strains mutating into HPAI strains. They provided advice on biosecurity and control measures.
In addition, EFSA supports Member States in their data collection and surveillance activities.
An overview of the data collected by EFSA from affected poultry holdings (and non-affected neighbouring poultry holdings) is provided in Appendix A of the Sept-Nov 2017 monitoring report.
To carry out its scientific work, EFSA exchanges information with national competent authorities, the European Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and other international organisations.
December 2017 EFSA publishes a monitoring report that lists the wild bird species that need to be sampled and tested if found dead or showing clinical signs.
October 2017 EFSA experts assess the risk of avian influenza entering the EU and review surveillance approaches – which comprise monitoring by Member States and the actions they take to minimise its spread. They conclude that migratory wild birds crossing the north-eastern and eastern border of the European Union is the most likely pathway for avian influenza to enter the territory.
Quarterly since September 2017 EFSA, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the EU reference laboratory on avian influenza and authorities in affected Member States publish reports on the situation of avian influenza in Europe and at global level. The report includes monitoring of:
- HPAI and LPAI outbreaks in Europe and other continents.
- Prevention and control measures that are being applied.
December 2016 Experts conclude that strict enforcement of biosecurity measures is the most effective way of preventing the introduction of the highly pathogenic influenza virus A (H5N8) into poultry farms.
EU legislation sets out rules on the surveillance, control and eradication of avian influenza.
EU reference Laboratory for avian influenza, hosted at the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie (IT), ensures high-quality uniform testing in the EU for this disease.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control assesses the risk of avian influenza infections in humans.