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).
Six outbreaks of HPAI in the region Emilia-Romagna were notified by Italy since the second half of August 2013. The first two outbreaks were located in poultry holdings in Ostellato (province of Ferrara) and in Mordano (province of Bologna). The third outbreak occurred in Portomaggiore (also in the province of Ferrara, in the protection zone of first outbreak in Ostellato) and the fourth and fifth outbreaks were detected in Mordano (in the protection zone of the second outbreak). Four industrial holdings are egg producing farms and one is dedicated to turkey farming. The sixth outbreak was notified in a backyard flock in Bondeno (province of Ferrara). Epidemiological investigations suggest that the virus entered the holding in Ostellato as a low pathogenicity strain, and it then mutated into HPAI. Further details can be found in these two presentations provided by Italy on 26 August and 10 September 2013.
In order to control virus spread, the Italian authorities are applying the measures foreseen by Council Directive 2005/94/EC, notably the killing of birds and the setting up of protection and surveillance zones around the affected areas. In these zones strict movement restrictions on poultry and poultry products apply, while specific veterinary checks are ongoing. The Italian authorities also established a "further restricted zone" where movement restrictions and surveillance apply to commercial farms keeping laying hens, poultry breeders and turkeys. Enhanced monitoring and biosecurity measures have also been put in place on the whole poultry sector in Italy.
The European Commission adopted an Implementing Decision on 19 August 2013 concerning protective measures in relation to HPAI H7N7 in Italy. Following the extraordinary meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCOFCAH) convened on 26 August 2013, a new Commission Implementing Decision was adopted on 27 August 2013. This Decision repealed the previous decision and sets new risk areas for controlling this disease event. On the basis of the conclusions of the SCOFCAH meeting of 10-11 September 2013, a third Commission Implementing Decision was adopted on 11 September 2013 in order to adapt the measures to the epidemiological situation.