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 - Latest developments 2018

HPAI of subtype H5N6 re-appeared in a captive bird holding in Germany on 1 September. After two months of absence of infection, two new outbreaks of HPAI H5N8 have been confirmed in Bulgaria on 19 September and on 3 October.

All HPAI detections in wild birds during 2018 in Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, Slovak Republic, the United Kingdom and Denmark are attributed to HPAI H5N6 with the last confirmation in three wild pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) found dead in Denmark on 19 September 2018 (see map).

HPAI Epidemic 2016/2017

In October 2016, HPAI of subtype H5N8 virus was first detected in a wild mute swan found dead at a lake in Hungary The virus was then identified in wild birds, poultry farms and/or captive bird holdings (e.g. in zoos) in 19 EU countries: 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. In addition, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovenia and Cyprus identified HPAI virus only in wild birds. Outbreaks in poultry and cases in wild birds sharply declined by end April 2017, but from July to December 2017 HPAI outbreaks of subtype H5N8 were again confirmed in poultry farms in Northern Italy and Bulgaria.

In mid-December 2017 the Netherlands detected HPAI of subtype H5N6 in a poultry holding 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 veterinary authorities of affected EU countries 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 countries experts at the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed.

The Commission has published updated rules on biosecurity and risk mitigation measures on poultry farms which obtained unanimous support by EU countries. These measures follow EFSA's advice and are 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 future HPAI outbreaks on farms.

A detailed overview on the situation in EU countries and the adopted measures is given in the Chronology of events, map and in the ADNS overview reports.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a scientific opinion on avian influenza and since then, quarterly reports on the development of the avian influenza situation in the EU and worldwide:

  1. EFSA - Avian influenza overview October 2016 - August 2017
  2. EFSA - Avian influenza overview September - November 2017
  3. EFSA - Avian influenza overview November 2017 - February 2018
  4. EFSA - Avian influenza overview February - May 2018 and
  5. EFSA - Avian influenza overview May – August 2018

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control collaborates with EFSA on these reports. ECDC also 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 EU countries' Chief Veterinary and Chief Medical Officers on Influenza Preparedness in the context of One Health took place on 23 and 24 October in Brussels.

EU countries' 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)

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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