Questions and Answers on Avian Influenza

What is avian influenza?

Avian influenza is a viral disease, which occurs primarily in birds. Avian influenza viruses are either high or low pathogenic viruses (highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI), respectively) depending on their ability to cause different severity of disease and mortality in chickens.

Wild birds, in particular aquatic birds, are the main reason for the evolution and spread of these viruses. Poultry infected with LPAI may show mild signs of the disease or none at all. Infections caused by HPAI can cause severe disease and death in poultry.

Why is avian influenza a concern?

Avian influenza in birds can have animal health and economic consequences, due to production losses in infected farms. Avian flu viruses have an increased ability to evolve/mutate and mix with other avian influenza viruses. This increases the risk of new, more infectious strains, or strains with the potential to infect other species, including humans. That avian influenza is being increasingly detected in mammals (e.g. cows, alpacas, mice, cats) is a trend that is kept under close surveillance.

The Commission, together with the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), monitors the avian influenza situation in the EU very closely. There are EU rules on the measures to take in the event of an outbreak in kept birds, as well as a robust framework of prevention and preparedness measures in place in case of infections in animals. With regard to human health, EU legislation on health security ensures surveillance, swift response and coordination at EU level, should a case be detected.