Avian Influenza: keeping careful watch to keep the EU safe

With avian Influenza increasingly in the spotlight recently, we asked two European Commission health threat management experts about the risks of its spread in Europe and about what the EU is doing to keep people, animals and the environment safe. Francisco Reviriego Gordejo and Ingrid Keller tell us the EU’s strong prevention and preparedness resources that allow the EU to closely monitor avian influenza and to take action should there be any outbreaks of concern.

Avian influenza is in the news again. Should we be worried?   

Francisco: The avian influenza virus is now being found in many parts of the world, also where it was never seen before, like Antarctica. And in areas where it has historically created problems for poultry farmers, like in the USA and in Europe, it is not following its usual seasonal pattern. This warrants close attention. 

In Europe, however, we are actually seeing less circulation of the virus. Our experts  at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control  (ECDC), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Union Reference Laboratories (EURL) reported significantly fewer inflected wild birds last season, and much fewer infected poultry farms, thanks to enhanced preparedness and prevention.  

The specific strain (H5N1 HPAI virus) now seen only in the US has infected wild birds, poultry and has also affected mammals. In close cooperation with the US authorities, we are carefully monitoring this strain, and our EU Reference Laboratory has analysed its genetic characteristics. Although this strain has spread in the US, it has never been detected in the EU.    

That said, we have to remain vigilant. But we also have reason to remain optimistic. The EU is well equipped, legally and operationally, to react if and when avian influenza viruses pose any risks for animal or public health.