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

Latest Developments

The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N8 virus was first detected in the EU on 27 October 2016 in one wild bird (mute swan) that had been found dead at Lake Fehér-to in Csongrád County, Hungary. Since then the virus has been identified in wild birds in further 22 Member States: Germany, Croatia, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Romania, France, Bulgaria, Greece, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Belgium and in Lithuania. The virus was last detected in a whooper swan in Finland in mid-June.

In 18 Member States the virus was detected in poultry farms, namely in Hungary, Germany, Croatia, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Romania, France, Bulgaria, Greece, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Spain, Poland and Belgium. Member States with a high density of duck and geese holdings have been most affected. The number of outbreaks in poultry and captive birds has sharply decreased. However, a few late detections were made in ornamental hobby birds in Belgium since early June.

Besides the HPAI virus of subtype H5N8, further virus subtypes of highly pathogenic avian influenza have been detected, H5N5, H5N6 and H5N1. The EU Reference Laboratory for avian influenza (EURL) concluded that the HPAI H5N8 and H5N5 viruses are still predominantly bird viruses without any specific increased affinity for humans. In relation to the H5N6 strain the EURL also stated that this virus does not appear to be the same as the strain currently circulating in Far East Asia that has been associated with cases in both poultry and humans and that genetic sequencing indicates that these viruses are a result of further reassortment involving H5N8 HPAI and endemic Eurasian viruses. The HPAI H5N1 subtype was detected in France and appears to be linked to the previous epidemic and is therefore of European origin.

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 map and in the ADNS overview reports.

The European Food Safety Authority is working on a comprehensive scientific opinion on avian influenza and has issued an interim scientific statement, in particular on biosecurity in relation to the current epidemic.

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.

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).

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EU legislation

Surveillance for Avian Influenza


Emergency and control measures

Chief Veterinary Officers and EU-RLs

Human Health Implications

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza