Germany, the Netherlands and the UK have all identified the H5N8 bird flu strain on poultry farms. A joint statement from the OIE and FAO said contact between wild birds and poultry must be minimised, and preparedness efforts and surveillance must also be enhanced, as a significant threat is now posed. The threat, they added, is particularly high in low-resourced countries situated along the Black Sea and East Atlantic migratory routes of wild birds.
After discoveries in China, Japan and South Korea earlier in the year, the strain has now been found in both wild birds and poultry production systems across Europe in a short space of time. The organisation said this suggests that wild birds may have played a role in spreading the virus
While it has not been confirmed as infectious to humans, H5N8 is highly pathogenic for domestic poultry, causing significant mortality, while it can also infect wild birds and can be carried for long distances.
A joint spokesperson said: “Should poultry 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 best way for countries to safeguard against these impacts is to encourage better biosecurity and to maintain surveillance systems that detect outbreaks early and enable veterinary services to respond rapidly.
“The new strain of avian influenza has not resulted in human cases. Nevertheless 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. Therefore, prudent and precautionary interventions at the animal level are warranted.”