Avian Influenza (AI) or "Bird Flu" is a highly contagious viral infection which can affect all species of birds and can manifest itself in different ways depending mainly on ability of the virus to cause disease (pathogenicity) and on the species affected.
Influenza infections in birds are divided in two groups on the basis of their pathogenicity:
- Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI): spreads rapidly causing serious disease with high mortality (up to 100% within 48 hours)
- Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI): causing generally a mild disease, may easily go undetected
The two types of pathogenicity result in very different forms of disease, and should not be confused. The H5N1 strain of the virus is a highly pathogenic form of avian influenza.
Measures to prevent and control avian influenza are coordinated at EU level. There are preventive measures against avian influenza which must be implemented by all the Member States and surveillance for the disease has been increased. Prescribed measures must be enacted by national authorities if there is a suspected or confirmed case of highly pathogenic avian influenza in either wild birds or domestic flocks in their territories. EU import bans have also been placed on potentially risky poultry products and susceptible imports from third countries with HPAI outbreaks. When there is an outbreak in a domestic poultry holding, all birds must be culled and measures are taken to prevent the further spread of the infection to other holdings. Zones with movement restriction (protection and surveillance zones) are established. In these zones, movement of live poultry and certain poultry products are restricted. Poultry has to be kept indoors and must be closely monitored.
The EU works closely with international partners in the fight against avian influenza. Regular contact and information exchange occurs between the European Commission, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
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Recent Events - Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom
On 16 November 2014, HPAI of the H5N8 subtype was detected in a laying hen farm in Hekedorp in The Netherlands. Later that day HPAI of H5 subtype was confirmed in a duck breeding holding in North Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. These outbreaks follow a first outbreak caused by that virus strain in a turkey farm in Heinrichswalde, Kreis Vorpommern-Greifswald, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania on 5 November 2014.
All three affected Member States have immediately taken measures according to EU legislation on the control of avian influenza (Council Directive 2005/94/EC):
These measures require:
- Killing and safe disposal of the poultry present on the infected holding, as well as its cleaning and disinfection and the establishment of zones (protection and surveillance zones) around the outbreak;
- In these zones, movement of all live poultry and poultry products is restricted (including a ban to move poultry to other Member States);
- All poultry has to be kept indoors and closely monitored and disinfection measures must be strictly applied.
- Epidemiological investigations are carried out to identify the possible source of virus.
- Given the high density of poultry holdings in some parts of the country, the Commission welcomes the Dutch authorities' additional decision to temporarily apply a complete standstill of movements for poultry, eggs and manure from farms throughout The Netherlands which allows to better assess the situation.
More on legislation on avian influenza
On 17 November 2014 the Commission adopted interim protective measures for the Netherlands and for the United Kingdom which will be published on 19 November 2014 in the Official Journal of the European Union
The press release issued on 17 November gives more details on the events:
As regards the HPAI H5N8 outbreak detected in Germany on 5 November first interim EU measures were adopted on 6 November and published on 8 November as Commission Implementing Decision 2014/778/EU. The measures have already been reviewed and confirmed at the meeting of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed on 13 November 2014.
Epidemiological investigations are ongoing to identify the possible source of virus. The fact that the three recent outbreaks in Germany, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom have occurred in proximity of humid areas with wild birds and the absence of any other epidemiological link between them, point towards wild migratory birds as the likely source of virus. Member States concerned are evaluating their wild bird surveillance data and are enhancing monitoring. Consequently, the Commission has asked all EU Member States to increase biosecurity on poultry farms.
The adopted Decisions will be reviewed by the Standing Committee of EU Member State experts on Thursday 20 November 2014 (PAFF Committee).
Further virus characterisations indicate that the detected HPAI H5N8 virus is similar to others of Asian origin. Since the beginning of the year, that virus has caused several outbreaks in poultry farms in South Korea and was also detected in Japan and China.
A more detailed overview (chronology of events) will be made available on a dedicated page.
As regards the risk to human health please see a risk assessment performed by ECDC in relation to the German outbreak of HPAI H5N8.