Photo: Carlene Trevennec /FAO

Photo: Carlene Trevennec /FAO

The European Commission has adopted emergency protective measures to contain a new strain of avian influenza, also known as bird flu, detected in the continent. The new strain is similar to strains reported to be circulating in 2014 in Asia. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) have said that this variety poses a significant threat to the poultry sector.

FAO reported that Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have confirmed the presence of the H5N8 strain of bird flu in poultry farms, which is highly contagious, and may pass through species barriers and infect humans.

German authorities also found the virus in a wild bird. While early this year, the People’s Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea reported outbreaks of H5N8 in poultry as well as findings in migratory birds and waterfowl.

Experts from FAO and OIE explained that the fact that the virus has now been found within a very short time interval in three European countries, both in a wild bird and in three very different poultry production systems, is suggestive that wild birds may have played a role in spreading the virus; as it is known, based on prior flu viruses, that these birds can carry the virus over long distances.

They also said that so far it has not been confirmed that the H5N8 virus infects people, but it is highly pathogenic for domestic poultry, causing significant mortality in chickens and turkeys.

FAO warned that if poultry production systems with low-biosecurity conditions become infected in countries with limited veterinary preparedness, the virus could spread through farms with devastating effects, both on vulnerable livelihoods as well as on country economies and trade.

“The new virus strain provides a stark reminder to the world that avian influenza viruses continue to evolve and emerge with potential threats to public health, food security and nutrition, to the livelihoods of vulnerable poultry farmers, as well as to trade and national economies. Therefore extreme vigilance is strongly recommended, while progressive control efforts must be sustained and financed,” OIE experts wrote in a press release.

FAO and OIE recommend at-risk countries to encourage better biosecurity and to maintain surveillance systems that detect outbreaks early and enable veterinary services to respond rapidly. They also advise on applying extreme vigilance measures, and said that progressive control efforts must be sustained and financed.

Particularly, in order to protect poultry-related livelihoods and trade the organizations suggest the following four measures at-risk countries: increase surveillance efforts for the early detection of H5N8 and other influenza viruses; maintain and further strengthen rapid response capacities of veterinary services; reinforce biosecurity measures, with particular emphasis on minimizing contact between domestic poultry and wild birds; and finally, raise awareness of hunters and other individuals who may come into contact with wildlife in order to provide early information on sick or dead wild birds.

According with the organizations, even that the new strain of avian influenza has not resulted in human cases, it is related to the H5N1 virus, which is known to have spread from Asia into Europe and Africa in 2005–2006. The H5N1 epidemic, in which wild birds have also been implicated, has caused the deaths of nearly 400 people and hundreds of millions of poultry to date. This is why both organizations recommend that prudent and precautionary interventions at the animal level should be warranted.

Through: Infosalus, Efekto Noticias, OIE