Cross-institutional team monitors new avian flu outbreak

Main threat of European outbreak is to poultry sector during upcoming winter.

November 25, 2020

2 Min Read
RVC tracking mallard.jpg
Mallard fitted with a satellite tag for tracking purposesRoyal Veterinary College

A team of academics, including a professor in One Health evolutionary biology at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), has joined together from across the U.K. to monitor outbreaks of both low-pathogenic and novel high-pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild birds and poultry in Europe and Central Asia and to assess the mitigation measures required to limit the spread.

According to an announcement from RVC, alongside avian influenza experts from across Europe and Asia, professor Nicola Lewis has been analyzing the emerging viruses in Europe and in countries in both the Middle East and Central Asia.

These HPAI viruses are causing significant disease outbreaks in poultry and wild bird die-off. However, to date, the particular H5 clade viruses involved have not been associated with transmission to people or other animals (zoonotic infections), RVC said. As it stands, the main threat of this virus is to the poultry sector during the upcoming winter, resulting in a need to put in place mitigation measures proportional to previous years.

The U.K.'s Animal & Plant Health Agency, an executive agency of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, identified the first reported case of the H5N8 strain of HPAI in domestic poultry in northwest England on Nov. 3. Since then, H5N8 has also been identified at a second infected premises in Herefordshire.

“This HPAI H5N8 virus has most likely been circulating undetected in birds since 2019. After its first detection in Iraq in May 2020, it has quickly spread to poultry in the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan and has now also been detected in many countries in Europe in both wild and domestic birds," Lewis said.

“This emergence of another novel H5N8 virus — the third emergent event with these H5 viruses that Eurasia has experienced since 2014-15 — reminds us that despite SARS-CoV-2 (causing COVID-19), bird flu is still a serious threat to both poultry health and to food security in many countries and highlights the need for continuous and effective surveillance in poultry populations worldwide,” Lewis added.

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