Avian influenza A(H5N8) continues to spread in poultry

New outbreaks have been reported in Italy, the Netherlands and Germany.

On 16 December 2014, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) was notified of an outbreak of HPAI H5N8 on a turkey farm in Porto Viro in northeastern Italy. Over 1200 birds had been infected and had died. Culling started as of 16 December. Restriction zones were established, and control measures (disinfection, culling and movement control) are ongoing. Genetic analyses are currently under way to confirm that this virus is similar to those observed in other European outbreaks. 

A new outbreak of HPAI H5N8 was reported in the week beginning 15 December 2014 on a poultry farm in Niedersachsen, Germany, prompting the culling of birds at this location, as well as on a neighbouring turkey farm. It was confirmed that the virus was similar to that of the November outbreak. 

According to the OIE, two more outbreaks of HPAI H5N8 have been reported in the Netherlands. As of 3 December 2014, several disease control measures were applied in protection and surveillance zones surrounding the outbreaks, including culling, disinfection, control of wildlife reservoirs and movement control. 

No further outbreaks of H5N8 have been reported in the United Kingdom since November and the protection zone around the previous outbreak was lifted on 12 December 2014. There remains only the larger surveillance zone, where disease control measures are still applied. 

In addition to the cases in poultry in Europe, widespread outbreaks of HPAI H5N8 were reported earlier in the Republic of Korea and Japan, some of which are still ongoing. In the United States of America, HPAI H5N8 was detected in a captive wild bird last week but has not been found in poultry. 

Risk to the general public?

No cases of H5N8 in human beings are known, and the risk to the general public is extremely low. Nevertheless, national authorities are taking appropriate precautions, as some avian influenza viruses can infect humans and other H5 viruses, such as H5N1, have affected humans in the past. The H5N8 virus in Europe appears to be highly pathogenic, meaning that it is highly likely to cause disease and death in poultry. People in close contact with live poultry should watch for any signs of illness in their flocks and immediately inform their veterinarians if they notice any cause for concern. It is safe to eat properly cooked poultry products.

What authorities are doing

Veterinary and public health authorities are working together in line with national, European Union and WHO guidelines, and have taken every reasonable precaution. For example, a protection zone and a surveillance zone have been put in place around affected premises to prevent the spread of disease. The poultry affected by the outbreak are being culled by personnel wearing personal protective equipment. Such personnel and anyone working on a farm who might have been exposed are being monitored and offered antiviral medication as a precaution. Their contacts are also being monitored for 10 days.