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FAO calls for early warning systems for avian influenza in Asia-Pacific

Cases of avian influenza are rising globally, with 272 additional events of outbreaks in birds recorded worldwide by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in little more than a month.
calendar icon 17 December 2021
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Increased avian influenza activity since 27 October 2021 has been seen in the Asia-Pacific region, but also in Africa and Europe during the past year. FAO suspects that wild birds play a role in spreading the virus globally.

In addition, according to the the World Health Organization (WHO), influenza A(H5N6) has caused 52 human infections in the Asia-Pacific region since 2014, half of which have occurred in 2021, and mostly in people with close contact with poultry prior to infection.

“Avian influenza viruses are constantly evolving, and we must be vigilant to detect new subtypes of the virus that could devastate poultry production systems in the region or infect humans, which can lead to a pandemic,” said FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) Regional Manager Kachen Wongsathapornchai.

“There is an urgent need to better share information on what strains of influenza circulate in Asia and ensure countries take the necessary steps to protect the public health and the livelihoods of their communities.” he added.

In response to this situation, FAO ECTAD has been consulting with more than 40 experts on avian influenza viruses to discuss what can be done to improve avian influenza surveillance and early warning systems in the Asia-Pacific region.

During the consultations, FAO and various experts emphasized the importance of information sharing to improve early warning, prevent the virus’ spread and minimize the global impacts of avian influenza.

“Better data would have helped countries and the international community determine preparedness and response more quickly and confidently,” said Filip Claes, FAO ECTAD Regional Laboratory Coordinator.

In particular, FAO and experts encourage countries to:

  • Rapidly share surveillance results and sequence information with the international community and neighboring countries to improve early warning and better prepare for virus incursions.
  • Conduct targeted surveillance to detect the disease risk in migratory birds and poultry value chains.
  • Enhance public trust in science and build strong multilateral collaboration in diverse areas, involving public and private sectors, research institutions, communities, and others.
  • Build integration between human health, animal health, and environmental sectors during surveillance activities through the One Health approach.