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Avian influenza

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 the 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) in most poultry species (except domestic waterfowl)
  • Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI): causing generally a mild disease, may easily go undetected

Latest Developments

Two outbreaks of HPAI of subtype H7N7 were confirmed on 2 and 16 May 2016 in a laying hen and a turkey fattening farm, both located in Ferrara province, in the region of Emilia Romagna, Italy.

Previously, France had detected on 24 November 2015 an outbreak of HPAI of subtype H5N1 in a backyard poultry farm in Dordogne. Laboratory investigations show that this virus is not related to the HPAI H5N1 "Asian" virus strain that emerged in South-East Asia in the mid-90ies and entered the EU in 2005. The virus strain detected in France is of European origin.

By 19 April 2016 a total of 77 outbreaks of HPAI subtypes H5N1, H5N2 and H5N9 have been detected in south-western France in nine departments: Dordogne, Gers, Haute-Vienne, Landes, Hautes-Pyrénées, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Lot, Haute-Garonne and Tarn. France provides regular updates on the disease situation and areas under restrictions.

This map shows the HPAI outbreaks detected in the European Union during 2016png(292 kB) (as of 24/06), namely in France and Italy.

During 2015 HPAI outbreaks of the subtype H7N7 had occurred in poultry in the United Kingdom and in Germany. Earlier that year HPAI of the H5N8 subtype was detected in poultry in Germany and Hungary, while HPAI of the subtype H5N1 ('Asian strain') was detected in poultry and wild birds in Bulgaria and was found in Romania in wild birds only. This map shows all HPAI outbreaks reported from Member States during 2015.

All affected Member States have immediately taken measures according to EU legislation on the control of avian influenza (Council Directive 2005/94/EC).

In relation to the current HPAI outbreaks in France and Italy the Commission adopted protective measurespdf(57 kB) that are published in the Official Journal of the European Union.

The situation and the measures adopted by the Commission are regularly reviewed during the meetings of EU Member State experts at the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed.

A detailed overview on the situation in Member States and the adopted measures is given in the Chronology of events.

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), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

For all aspects regarding HPAI and LPAI, please refer to the information below.

 

EU legislation

EU legislation Council Directive 2005/94/EC on avian influenza (AI) is based on experiences gained with the control of major disease outbreaks and takes into account the most recent scientific knowledge on avian influenza to respond to the challenges that Europe faces today. It aims at better prevention and control of outbreaks.

All suspected cases of AI in domestic poultry and captive birds must be investigated and appropriate measures taken in case of confirmation of both low and highly pathogenic avian influenza. To limit the spread, infected poultry must be killed in a humane way and disposed of safely. Feeding stuffs, contaminated equipment and manure must be destroyed or treated to inactivate the virus.

To prevent further spread of disease the veterinary authorities are required to immediately put in place movement restrictions on the affected holding and on all farms in a radius of at least 10 km around these holdings, the so called surveillance zone. In addition, the competent authorities must establish a protection zone with a radius of at least 3 kilometres around the holding. If necessary, stamping-out measures can also be extended to poultry farms in the vicinity or to farms which have had dangerous contacts with infected farm.

In accordance with EU legislation, all Member States have AI contingency plans (approved by Commission Decision 2007/24/EC – that repealed Commission Decision 2004/402/EC – and, later on, Decision 2013/347/EU) in place to ensure that the most appropriate measures are immediately implemented.

At farm level preventive hygiene measures such as cleaning and disinfection are crucial. Disease awareness amongst farmers and co-operation by all people in the poultry sector must ensure that the strictest bio-security measures are applied to prevent (further) spread of the disease.

Legislation foresees that Member States may decide to introduce vaccination of birds against AI as an emergency measure or as a preventive tool. Although vaccination protects birds against the clinical signs of the disease, they may still become infected and contribute to virus spread. Vaccination must therefore be accompanied by appropriate surveillance and restriction measures. Before vaccinating any birds against AI, a Member State must submit a detailed vaccination plan, including details on surveillance measures.

Surveillance for Avian Influenza

Since 2003 EU Member States must carry out surveillance programmes for avian influenza aimed at detecting infections with low pathogenic avian influenza viruses of the H5 and H7 subtypes in poultry which have the potential to mutate to the highly pathogenic form of the virus. The spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 of the Asian lineage has further triggered enhanced surveillance and early detection systems, both in poultry and wild birds. Member States must report the results of their surveillance to the Commission. The surveillance is compulsory according to Council Directive 2005/94/EC on EU measures for the control of avian influenza that must follow harmonised guidelines laid down in Commission Decision 2010/367/EC. Member States' programmes must be approved to obtain EU co-financing.

For the Annual Reports, please consult the right hand side box RELATED DOCUMENTS.

Vaccination

Council Directive 2005/94/EC on the control of Avian Influenza allows emergency vaccination as a short term measure to respond to a disease outbreak. As a new tool, the revised Directive now also gives the possibility to use preventive vaccination. This long term measure can be used by Member States that based on a risk assessment identify certain areas, poultry categories or their husbandry systems (e.g. free range) as being at a particular risk for virus introduction. Vaccinated birds may still become infected by the virus. They must therefore be monitored closely to detect virus infection. Vaccination plans must follow a DIVA strategy which allows Differentiating between Infected and Vaccinated Animals. The DIVA strategy is important to keep the virus from spreading from vaccinated birds to other animals. It also ensures safe trade of products from vaccinated birds. Vaccination plans must be formally approved by a Decision.

1. Vaccination against Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI)

Italy

In 2000 Italy developed a vaccination strategy to limit the spread of low pathogenic avian influenza in certain areas of Northern Italy. This strategy makes use of a heterologous vaccine using a vaccine strain that is different from the circulating field strain. In combination with clinical and laboratory surveillance this allows discrimination between vaccinated and infected birds according to the DIVA principle. Such a vaccination plan was first adopted in Italy by Decision 2000/721/EC. The amendment by Decision 2001/847/EC allowed for the first time the marketing of meat and eggs from vaccinated poultry based on surveillance of vaccinated and unvaccinated poultry flocks in the vaccination area. By Decision 2004/666/EC the use of a bivalent vaccine against both - H5 and H7 avian influenza subtypes - was introduced. Further vaccination plans were implemented in Italy by Decision 2005/926/EC and last as an emergency vaccination plan against LPAI from autumn 2007 until end of March 2008 by Decision 2007/638/EC.

Portugal

In autumn 2007 Portugal reported several LPAI outbreaks of the H5 subtype chiefly in poultry intended for restocking supplies of game. Decision 2008/285/EC approved an emergency vaccination plan against LPAI of poultry intended for restocking supplies of game in Portugal. After eradication of the LPAI outbreak in Portugal preventive vaccination is to be continued until end of July 2011 in one holding of valuable breeding mallard ducks under Decision 2010/189/EU.

2. Vaccination against High Pathogenic Avian Influenza

In February 2006, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health backed Commission proposals to allow France and the Netherlands to carry out targeted preventive vaccination of poultry, as a precautionary measure against highly pathogenic avian influenza of the H5N1 subtype. The vaccination plans were authorised only for specific poultry categories subject to rigorous surveillance and control requirements.

  • Netherlands - Decision 2006/147/EC as last amended by Decision 2006/528/EC approved the Dutch plan for preventive vaccination of backyard poultry and organic/ free-range laying hens which could not be effectively kept indoors on a voluntary basis throughout the whole country. Preventive vaccination continues to be applied until end of July 2009 under Decision 2007/590/EC.
  • France - Decision 2006/148/EC as last amended by Decision 2006/438/EC approved the French plan for the preventive vaccination of ducks and geese which can not easily be put indoors and separated from wild birds in the departments of Landes, Loire-Atlantique and Vendée. A Commission press release summarises the approval of plans in Fr and NL (IP/06/210).
  • Germany - Germany has carried out vaccination in three commercial poultry holdings (ducks, geese, laying hens) in North Rhine Westphalia within the frame of a research orientated field study from October 2006 until October 2008 under the provisions of Decision 2006/705/EC. A Commission press release summarises the approval of the German plan (IP/06/1153).

3. Vaccination in zoos

Vaccination of susceptible birds kept in zoos is an appropriate additional preventative measure, under certain circumstances. Detailed rules concerning preventive vaccination of birds kept in zoos that the Member States should follow are laid down in Commission Decision 2007/598/EC (repealed by Decision 2005/474/EC).

Approved preventive vaccination plans for birds kept in zoos and approved bodies, institutes and centres in Member States:

4. Verona scientific conference on vaccination: a tool for the control of avian influenza

From 20-22 March 2007 the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health), FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) and IZSVe (Istituto Zooprofillatico Sperimentale delle Venezie, OIE reference laboratory for Avian influenza) held a scientific conference in Verona/Italy on "Vaccination: a tool for the control of avian influenza". The conference was co-organised and supported by the Commission. For further information please refer to this pageavi.

On the OIE website the speakers' presentations and the recommendationspdf of the conference can be accessed.

Emergency and control measures

In addition to the fixed body of legislation laid down for avian influenza, the Commission can also adopt additional or emergency measures when required using the AI Directive, and other pieces of primary animal health legislation as their legal basis. The Commission, with backing of the Member States, can put forward legislative measures. This is usually done through the former Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH), which is made up of members from all Member States. Measures taken include import bans, preventive and control measures, domestic and wild bird surveillance programmes and defining risk areas around protection and surveillance zones.

1. Pre-emptive risk reduction measures

a) Surveillance

Since 2003 EU Member States have been implementing surveillance programmes for avian influenza in particular aiming to detect infections with low pathogenic viruses of the H5 and H7 subtypes. The spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 of the Asian lineage has shown the clear need to further strengthen surveillance and early detection systems, both in poultry and wild birds.

Council Directive 2005/94/EC on EU measures for the control of avian influenza requires that Member States carry out surveillance programmes for avian influenza according to harmonised guidelines which have last been laid down in Commission Decision 2007/268/EC.

Surveillance programmes must be annually approved by the Commission and are co-financed by the Community as last by Commission Decision 2009/883/EC.

b) Preventive (biosecurity) measures

Preventive measures have been stepped up as the H5N1 Asian strain of avian influenza has spread globally. The measures, which were agreed in the SCoFAH and implemented by Member States, include enhanced routine surveillance in wild birds (see above) and increased biosecurity and risk prevention measures, such as prohibiting gatherings of birds at markets, shows and cultural events and hunting with decoy birds. These measures should be particularly enhanced in specific 'high risk areas' which are designated by the competent authorities as posing a particular risk for the introduction of Avian Influenza. Such areas may be places with high numbers of migratory wild birds in close proximity to poultry farms, or along migratory flyways. In these areas it is advised that such enhanced measures be taken to specifically prevent direct and indirect contact between wild birds and poultry. Measures also include keeping poultry indoors if necessary. Early detection systems to detect the potential presence of AI in poultry holdings due to changes in production data have also be implemented. These measures are under continuous review as the situation evolves.

Decision 2005/731/EC (amended several times) lays down additional requirements for the surveillance of avian influenza in wild birds.

Decision 2005/734/EC (amended several times) lays down biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of transmission of highly pathogenic avian influenza caused by Influenza virus. A subtype H5N1 from birds living in the wild to poultry and other captive birds and providing for an early detection system in areas at particular risk.

c) Preventive vaccination

The 2005 Directive on avian flu authorises preventive vaccination to keep the disease from spreading any further. This new measure is subject to stringent controls and vaccinated birds will continue to be monitored. The DIVA strategy (Differentiating between Infected and Vaccinated Animals) sets out clear measures to distinguish between vaccinated birds and those with avian influenza. Such a strategy is important to detect outbreaks of the virus in vaccinated birds. They may still become infected, but detection is delayed because they will not show clinical symptoms of the disease. The DIVA strategy is important to keep the virus from spreading from vaccinated birds to other animals.

2. Control measures

The revised control measures of the new avian influenza Directive must be applied by Member States as of 1 July 2007. It foresees more comprehensive and flexible provisions allowing to combat avian influenza - in its highly and low pathogenic form - more effectively. Based on the positive outcome of a risk assessment these measures also provide for possible derogations from the necessity of culling of birds on affected premises in the case of non-commercial holdings, circuses, zoos, pet shops, wild life parks or where birds are kept for the for scientific research or conservation of endangered species.

a) Provision for extended protection and buffer zones for areas surrounding cases in domestic poultry ( Layd down in Commission Decision 2006/415/EC - amended several times)

To complement the measures provided for in the Directive 2005/94/EC in case of the suspicion or presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza of the Asian lineage H5N1 additional precautions are taken by defining an area "A" and "B". Area "A" includes the protection and surveillance zones and area "B" is established around area "A" serving as a buffer zone between the outbreaks and the non-affected parts of the Member State. Movements of live poultry, live birds, hatching eggs, meat and meat products of wild feathered game and animal by-products of avian origin are halted and certain movements may be authorised under stringent veterinary control. Strict biosecurity must be applied and means of transport must be cleaned and disinfected before and after use.

Member States can impose more stringent measures if they believe these contribute to a more rapid and effective eradication of the disease. Member States must keep the Commission informed of such measures.

b) Control and Monitoring Areas for wild birds (Commission Decision 2006/563/EC)

This decision lays down protection measures in case of a suspected or confirmed case of HPAI H5N1 in a wild bird in order to protect the poultry populations from getting infected. It includes the establishment of a 3km control area and a 10km monitoring area where certain restrictions for movements apply to live poultry and poultry products. Poultry must be kept indoors and enhanced biosecurity and surveillance must be applied. Based on the positive outcome of a risk assessment the size and the shape of the area can be adapted to the epidemiological, ecologicol and geographical situation.

c) Poultry killing methods - Joint Animal Health/Animal Welfare meeting

Chief Veterinary Officers and EU-RLs

Chief Veterinary Officers (CVOs) of the Member States deal with international animal disease coordination, emergency disease response and endemic animal disease programmes. As the H5N1 Asian strain of avian influenza spread from the East, CVOs and the Commission discussed measures to be taken to halt the spread of the disease.

European Union Reference Laboratories: Cases of avian influenza found in the EU are confirmed at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, UK.

For the full list of European Union Reference Laboratories (EU-RLs) regarding Animal Diseases, please refer to this page.

National Reference Laboratories - The list of community and National reference laboratories for avian influenza is the following:

Austria:

Österreichische Agentur für Gesundheit und Ernährungssicherheit (AGES)
Veterinärmedizinische Untersuchungen Mödling, Robert Koch Gasse 17
A-2340 Mödling

Belgium & Luxembourg:

Centrum voor Onderzoek in Diergeneeskunde en Agrochemie (CODA)
Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Vétérinaires et Agrochimiques, (CERVA)
Groeselenbergstraat 99/ 99, Rue Groeselenberg
B-1180 Brussel/Bruxelles

Bulgaria:

Национален диагностичен научноизследователски ветеринарномедицински институт “Проф. д-р Георги Павлов”
- National Diagnostic Veterinary Research Institute “Prof. Dr. Georgi Pavlov”
бул. “Пенчо Славейков” 15 - 15, Pencho Slaveykov Blvd
София 1606 - 1606 Sofia

Cyprus:

State Veterinary Laboratory
Veterinary Services
1417 Athalassa
Nicosia

Czech Republic:

National Reference Laboratory for Newcastle Disease and highly pathogenic Avian Influenza,
Statni veterinarni ustav Praha
Sidlistni 136/24
165 03 Praha 6-Lysolaje

Denmark:

Danish Institute for Food and Vaterinary Research
Hangøvej 2
DK-8200 Århus N.

Estonia:

Estonian Veterinary and Food Laboratory, Tallinn laboratory
Väike-Paala 3
11415 Tallinn

Finland:

Eläinlääkintä ja elintarviketutkimuslaitos (EELA)
Helsinki, Anstalten för veterinärmedicin och livsmedel
Helsingfors PL 45
FIN-00581 Helsinki

France:

Laboratoire d'Etudes de Recherches Avicoles et Porcines
B.P. 53, AFFSA Ploufragan (Agence Française de Securité Sanitaire des Aliments)
F-22440 Ploufragan

Germany:

Friedrich-Löffler-Institut, Bundesforschungsinstitut für Tiergesundheit (FLI)
Boddenblick 5a
D-17493 Greifswald - Insel Riems

Greece:

National Reference Laboratory, (NRL) Center of Veterinary Institutes
80, 26th October Str
GR-54627 Thessaloniki

Hungary:

Central Agricultural Office
Directorate of Veterinary Diagnostical Investigation
Tábornok street 2
1149 Budapest

Ireland:

Virology Division,
Central Veterinary Research Laboratory,
Department of Agriculture and Food Laboratories,
Backweston Campus,
Stacumny Lane,
Celbridge,
Co. Kildare.
Italy

Italy & San Marino:

Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie (IZS-VE)
Via Romea 14/A
I-35020-Legnaro - Padova

Latvia:

State Veterinary Medicine Diagnostic Centre (SVMDC)
Lejupes str. 3
LV-1076 Riga

Lithuania:

Nacionaline veterinarijos laboratorija
(National Veterinary Laboratory)
J.Kairiukscio 10
LT-2021 Vilnius.

Malta:

Food and Veterinary Division
Laboratory Civil Abbatoir
Albertown

Netherlands:

CIDC-Lelystad, Central Institute for Animal Disease Control,
Lelystad
Postbox 2004
NL-8203 AA Lelystad

Poland:

Panstwowy Instytut Weterynaryjny
Panstwowy Instytut Badawczy
al. Partyzantów 57
24-100 Pulawy

Portugal:

Laboratório Nacional de Investigação Veterinária (LNIV)
Estrada de Benfica 701
P-1549-011 Lisboa

Romania:

Institutul de Diagnostic şi Sănătate Animală
Strada Dr. Staicovici nr. 63, sector 5
codul 050557, Bucureşti’

Slovakia:

State Veterinary Institute, Reference Laboratory for Newcastle Disease and Avian influenza
Pod Dráhami 918
96086 Zvolen

Slovenia:

Veterinarska fakulteta
Nacionalni veterinarski institut (NVI)
Gerbiceva 60
SI-1000 Ljubljana

Spain:

Laboratorio Central de Veterinaria (L.C.V.)
Carretera de Algete, Km. 8
E-28110 Algete, Madrid

Sweden:

Statens Veterinärmedicinska Anstalt (SVA)
Travvägen 20
S-751 89 Uppsala

United Kingdom:

Veterinary Laboratory Agency (VLA) Weybridge
Avian Virology, Woodham Lane
New Haw, Addlestone
Surrey KT 15 3NB

Disease Surveillance and Investigation Department
Veterinary Sciences Division
Soney Road
Belfast BT4 3SD

Human Health Implications

The H5N1 avian influenza virus is primarily a bird disease, and has so far affected only humans who came into very close contact with infected birds. However, the concern is that this virus could mutate into a strain which is transmissible from human to human. This in turn could lead to a human influenza pandemic. The European Union is currently devoting a lot of resources into preparing for such an eventuality.

For more information, refer to our Avian Influenza in humans webpage.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

1. Chronology of events

All actions taken by the Commission aim to stop the spread of the disease, to eradicate it as soon as possible, to ensure the safe movement, imports and exports of animals and their products and to inform trading partners and other interested parties about the actions taken at Community level. The measures taken are in line with Community legislation and the requirements of the Word Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Since 2003 the main events and the Commission actions are summarised in the following Chronologies:

In addition, detailed information on AI epidemics in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany (28 February-22 August 2003)pdf(341 kB)

2. Programme and presentations

3. EU External Response

The European Commission works closely together with international partners such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

On 17-18 December 2005, the Commission co-hosted an international pledging conference on Avian influenza with the World Bank and the People's Republic of China. In Beijing, the international community pledged a total amount of 1.57 billion Euro to fight avian influenza and prepare for a possible flu pandemic. Europe played a central role in the fundraising effort. The Commission not only co-hosted the event, it also pledged 100 million Euro. Taken together with the 114 million Euro pledged by the EU Member States, the EU in total pledged around 214 million euro.

4. National websites