'Just because it hasn’t doesn’t mean it can’t' - WHO on avian influenza

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock
Picture: iStock

Related tags: Avian influenza, Influenza

Vigilance on avian influenza has been urged by the World Health Organization (WHO) which said just because there are no human cases in European countries so far does not mean it cannot happen.

Since June 2016, at least 24 countries in the WHO European Region have seen outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A(H5N8) virus in wild birds and domestic poultry.

Outbreaks have also been reported in countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Dr Caroline Brown, programme manager of Influenza and other respiratory pathogens at WHO/Europe, said countries reporting outbreaks in birds need to remain vigilant as avian influenza viruses can transmit from animals to humans.

“No human cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza A(H5N8) have been reported so far in European countries, but this does not mean this cannot happen, as past experience tells us​.”

It is the second time the virus has caused outbreaks in Europe with the autumn migration of wild birds. It was first detected in birds in Asia in 2014.

Most human cases caused by other avian influenza viruses occurred after contact with infected poultry or contaminated environments.

There is no evidence to suggest consumption of poultry meat or eggs could transmit the virus to humans.

WHO advice included following food safety and hygiene practices such as cooking food at sufficiently high temperatures.

HPAI A(H5N8) viruses cluster in the same haemagglutinin (HA) clade as A(H5N1) viruses from Asia and A(H5N6) – which has caused disease in humans in China.

The risk of zoonotic transmission to the public in EU/EEA countries is considered to be very low, according to a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control risk assessment last year.

Public Health England said the risk to public health is very low and the Food Standards Agency is clear that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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