Avian influenza

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

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks starting 10/2016

In 2016, HPAI of subtype H5N8 virus was first detected in a wild bird (mute swan) found dead at a Hungarian lake on 27 October. The virus was then identified in wild birds, poultry farms and or captive bird holdings (e.g. in zoos) in 19 Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Romania and the United Kingdom. Member States with a high density of duck and geese holdings were most affected. Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovenia and Cyprus identified the virus only in wild birds. Outbreaks in poultry and cases in wild birds sharply declined by end April 2017. From July to December 2017 HPAI outbreaks of subtype H5N8 were again confirmed in poultry farms in Northern Italy and in Bulgaria.

Latest Developments

In mid-December 2017 the Netherlands detected HPAI of subtype H5N6 in a poultry holding in Flevoland and in captive bird holdings. Based on the genetic analysis of HPAI H5N6 viruses recently detected in Europe and Asia, the EU Reference Laboratory for Avian Influenza concluded that the European strains can be differentiated from those strains associated with zoonotic infection in Asia. Furthermore, they do not carry any virulence markers strongly associated with human infection risk. There have been no reported human infections with this particular genetic sub-lineage of H5N6.

The Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom and Sweden and EU neighbour Switzerland confirmed HPAI H5N6 virus also in wild birds found dead (mainly swans, wild ducks and seagulls).

Between mid-December 2017 and late February 2018 no outbreaks were detected in EU poultry farms. Starting on 26 February 2018, the Netherlands (subtype H5N6), Bulgaria and Italy (both subtype H5N8) have each reported one outbreak on their territory.

The veterinary authorities of affected Member States immediately took EU control measures (Council Directive 2005/94/EC) to possibly prevent virus spread to other poultry holdings and established protection and surveillance zones around the infected holdings. The Commission continues to call for maintaining extreme vigilance and strict biosecurity on farms to prevent contacts between wild birds and poultry. It has adopted urgent protective measures in relation to these outbreaks. The disease situation and the measures adopted by the Commission are regularly reviewed during the periodical meetings of EU Member State experts at the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed.

The Commission has also adopted rules on biosecurity and risk mitigating measures on poultry farms, in particular directed at preventing contact with wild birds, as well as early detection systems. The implementation of these measures by the farmers is crucial to prevent further outbreaks on farms.

A detailed overview on the situation in Member States and the adopted measures is given in the Chronology of events, a mapand in the ADNS overview reports.

The European Food Safety Authority has published a scientific opinion and overview reports) on avian influenza.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control publishes reports and risk assessments in relation to the relevance of avian influenza for humans: risk assessment on public health.

Influenza Preparedness

A Joint meeting of Member States' Chief Veterinary and Chief Medical Officers on Influenza Preparedness in the context of One Health took place on 23 and 24 October in Brussels.

Member States' responsible authorities for animal and human health, the EU agencies EFSA and ECDC and international organisations - the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) - met to address the EU's enhanced preparedness and intersectoral co-operation for the next epidemic waves of animal and human influenza using an One Health approach.

The EU works closely with international partners in the fight against avian influenza. Regular contacts and information exchange occur between the European Commission, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)

[Expand All]

EU legislation

Surveillance for Avian Influenza


Emergency and control measures

Chief Veterinary Officers and EU-RLs

Human Health Implications

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza