A team of academics, including a Professor in One Health Evolutionary Biology at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), have joined together from across the UK to monitor outbreaks of both low and novel high-pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild birds and poultry in Europe and Central Asia and assess the mitigation measures required to limit the spread.

Alongside avian influenza experts from across Europe and Asia, Professor Nicola Lewis has been analysing the emerging viruses in Europe and in countries in both the Middle East and Central Asia.

These HPAI viruses are causing significant disease outbreaks in poultry and wild bird die-off. However, to date, the particular H5 2.3.4.4b clade viruses involved have not been associated with transmission to people or other animals (zoonotic infections). As it stands, the main threat of this virus is to the poultry sector through the upcoming winter, resulting in a need for mitigation measures proportional to previous years to be put in place.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), an executive agency of the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), identified the first reported case of HPAI H5N8 in domestic poultry in the North-West of England on 3 November 2020. Since then, HPAI H5N8 has also been identified at a second infected premises in Herefordshire. However, Public Health England has confirmed that the risk to public health is very low, and the Food Standards Agency has added that avian influenza does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

As a world leading expert on influenza A viruses, Nicola provides consultancy to a range of international organisations, including the European Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the European Food Safety Authority and the World Health Organisation.

Nicola Lewis, Professor in One Health Evolutionary Biology at the RVC, said:
“This HPAI H5N8 virus has most likely been circulating undetected in birds since 2019. After its first detection in Iraq in May 2020 it has quickly spread to poultry in the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan and has now also been detected in many countries in Europe in both wild and domestic birds.
“This emergence of another novel H5N8 virus – the third emergent event with these H5 viruses that Eurasia has experienced since 2014/2015 – reminds us that despite SARS-Cov2 (causing COVID-19), bird flu is still a serious threat to both poultry health and to food security in many countries and highlights the need for continuous and effective surveillance in poultry populations worldwide.”


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