Countries Across Migration Pathways at Risk from Avian Flu

GLOBAL - The H5N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus that is currently spreading around Europe was detected in wild birds in Tyva Republic in southern Russia two months ago, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
calendar icon 17 November 2016
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FAO issued a warning at that time that the virus would likely spread in a south-westerly direction with the autumn migration of waterbirds.

The virus, which is highly pathogenic for poultry, appears already to have travelled westward as far as Poland and Hungary, and southwards to Kerala Province in India, according to recent official notifications to the World Organisation for Animal Health, or OIE.

“Events in the past week demonstrated that the virus has already spread from wild birds to domestic poultry,” said FAO chief veterinary officer Juan Lubroth.

Outbreaks in commercial or domestic poultry have been detected in India, Hungary and Israel, where the virus moved south after detections in Europe.

FAO said the locations correspond roughly to the autumn migration patterns of waterbirds, particularly Anatidae species - the family that includes ducks, geese and swans.

These recent detections of H5N8 virus in wild and domestic birds are additional evidence of the role of wild birds in the long-distance movement of H5 HPAI viruses from one stopover location to another along their migration routes. This appears to be the fourth documented wave of intercontinental movement of such viruses since 2005. The role of wild birds in their long-distance movement is now incontrovertible, according to a recent FAO news bulletin and other scientific publications.

Countries across the region should be on high alert for incursions of the virus, should adopt stronger biosecurity measures on all poultry farms, and enhance their surveillance, said Roztalnyy. All countries along the migratory pathways of the Anatidae family of birds are at risk, including countries of the Middle East, the European Union, West Africa, the former Soviet Union, and South Asia.

“We cannot predict which countries will experience outbreaks in poultry or cases in wild birds,” said Andriy Rozstalnyy, FAO animal production officer for Europe and Central Asia, “but all should consider measures to curtail the disease and prevent spread of the virus in poultry.” The risk extends through March-April 2017 for Europe and the Middle East, he noted.

FAO is calling for increased testing of any wild birds found dead or shot during hunting activities, and for vigilance on the part of poultry owners near sites where waterbirds congregate.

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