Increase in avian influenza virus outbreaks in Europe
Outbreaks of A(H5N8) A(H5N1) avian influenza viruses have been reported in the central eastern part of Europe since the beginning of January. To minimise risk, people that are exposed to potentially infected birds should avoid direct unprotected contact to birds or their droppings and take appropriate personal protection measures.
Since the beginning of January, outbreaks of high pathogenic A(H5N8) and low pathogenic A(H5N1) avian influenza viruses have been reported in the central eastern part of Europe. These outbreaks in poultry holdings and wild birds, reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health and listed in the Global Animal Disease Information System (EMPRES-i) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), have been detected in countries such as the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
Large and small poultry holdings as well as backyard farms raising different bird species including turkeys, chickens, ducks and geese were affected. Wild birds found positive were wild waterfowl but also a hawk.
Control measures according to the Council Directive 2005/94/EC have been implemented with culling operations of the poultry at all affected premises.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations European, countries with significant poultry production which are located at lower latitudes and closer to the current outbreaks may be at higher risk in the coming months, depending on wild bird movements.
The latest ECDC/EFSA/EURL situation report on avian influenza indicated only one low pathogenic avian influenza outbreak between August and November 2019, which suggests that the epidemiological situation is evolving fast and countries at risk should increase their surveillance activities.
According to European Commission and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Animal & Plant Agency Situation Assessment, the sequence analysis of highly pathogenic avian influenza A(H5N8) isolates showed that the strains identified in 2020 are different to strains previously observed circulating in Europe. Some similarity to viruses collected 2019 in Africa have been observed in the HA gene segment. Other genes (NP and PB1), however, were different to the African isolates but showed close relationship to viruses detected in wild birds in Russia in 2018.
Handle with care and avoid direct unprotected contact
Avian influenza virus transmission to humans is a rare event and the risk is considered to be very low for viruses adapted to avian species. However, although no transmission of highly pathogenic A(H5N8) viruses to humans have been observed, the ongoing reassortment between different A(H5N8) and other viruses might impact zoonotic transmission. According to the EURL, no markers for improved transmission or pathogenicity have been observed.
To minimise any residual risk, people that are exposed to potentially infected birds should avoid direct unprotected contact to birds or their droppings and take appropriate personal protection measures following national guidelines.
People with respiratory illness or conjunctivitis following contact with ill or dead birds or their droppings or involved in operations in confirmed outbreaks should mention their exposure to birds to their physician to initiate testing for avian influenza virus infection.