Public awareness of avian influenza needed as migratory birds return to Europe
WHO/Europe calls on the public to remain vigilant about avian influenza virus outbreaks in poultry and wild birds. Since some avian influenza viruses can infect humans, it is important that people in countries experiencing outbreaks take protective steps and avoid unnecessary contact with sick and dead birds.
European countries stay alert after a major outbreak of avian influenza virus last winter
Between October 2016 and April 2017, a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus subtype, A(H5N8), caused the largest outbreak in poultry and wild birds ever recorded in some European countries. Millions of birds were culled as a consequence. Long-distance migratory wild birds were identified as the likely vehicle that brought the virus to the WHO European Region.
This year, after the return of migratory birds to their wintering grounds, 4 countries in the Region (Bulgaria, Germany, Italy and the Russian Federation) detected A(H5N8) in domestic poultry and/or wild birds. This is according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for 1 October–6 December 2017.
The FAO will issue the next update on 3 January 2018. Close collaboration between public health, veterinary and environmental authorities is crucial to ensure rapid detection of A(H5N8) in poultry and wild birds and to protect human health.
Avian influenza viruses and risk for human health
Avian influenza viruses can rarely cause disease in humans. Human infection is mostly linked with contact to live or dead infected birds, or their environments. No human cases were reported during the influenza A(H5N8) outbreaks in 2016–2017, despite large-scale human exposure to infected birds, and the risk of transmission from animals to humans was assessed as low.
“However, avian influenza viruses warrant close monitoring given their ability to change and pass from animals to humans, creating a potential for a new pandemic,” says Dr Dorit Nitzan, Health Emergencies Coordinator at WHO/Europe. People in countries experiencing outbreaks are advised to adopt simple measures to protect themselves.
Public health advice
- Avoid contact with any birds (poultry or wild birds) and report sick or dead birds to responsible authorities.
- Do not touch birds or carcasses with bare hands. If you must handle a carcass, wear gloves or use an inverted plastic bag to collect the bird. Make sure to wash hands properly with soap and water or use a suitable disinfectant after handling.
- Follow good food safety and food hygiene practices in line with WHO’s Five Keys to Safer Food Programme, such as cooking poultry or wild birds thoroughly at sufficiently high temperatures.