European Commission steps up action against avian influenza

EU member states have unanimously supported a Commission proposal consolidating the protective measures against highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N8 in the four countries currently experiencing outbreaks, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

The virus, likely introduced by wild migratory birds which can carry it during their seasonal movements, and shows no indication of harm to human health at present, was first reported in Poland on 31 December 2019. It has caused a total of 16 outbreaks of HPAI in poultry farms, affecting a variety of poultry species – ducks, geese, turkeys, and laying hens.

The measures aim at protecting the rest of the EU and third countries ensuring continuation of safe trade without jeopardising the sanitary status of the EU. Such decisions are usually recognised by third countries, which import from non-affected parts of the respective Member State and the rest of the EU. So far all affected countries have taken all necessary measures, the EC said in a statement.

According to data available on TRACES, GB has not imported any live birds or eggs from the areas surrounding these outbreaks in the last few weeks.

The OIE/FAO international reference laboratory/UK national laboratory at Weybridge has the necessary ongoing diagnostic capability for these strains of virus, whether low or high pathogenicity AI and continually monitors changes in the virus. 

Currently the risk of HPAI in wild birds in the UK is low (i.e. no change at present) but this is being kept under review on a weekly basis. 

Although these outbreaks in Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary are the first reports of HPAI in Europe so far this winter (in either domestic poultry or wild birds), this cannot be taken as reassuring regarding the risk for incursions to UK, Defra said

Due to the lower numbers of H5 HPAI outbreaks observed in 2018/19, there may now be more limited immunity in the native wild bird population to H5 viruses, with a large susceptible population of hosts in the form of juvenile birds migrating to the UK every autumn. 

Defra recommended all poultry keepers stay vigilant and make themselves aware of the latest information on www.gov.uk, particularly about recommendations for biosecurity and how to register their flocks.

Further information is available here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu including updated biosecurity advice for poultry keepers for England; https://gov.wales/avian-influenza for Wales and; http://gov.scot/avianinfluenza for Scotland.

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