The situation regarding avian influenza continues to evolve in Europe and globally, with new outbreaks reported in birds and occasional infections in mammals. Sporadic human infections are reported from outside the EU, where the risk to public remains low, according to the latest report on avian influenza by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and the EU reference laboratory (EURL).
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses have caused an increase of cases in wild birds, particularly in gulls, in the EU and continued sporadic infections in mammals. The number of outbreaks in poultry between December 2022 and March 2023 in the EU has decreased from its high point in November 2022. Abnormal mass mortality in gulls were observed in countries such as France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Italy. The risk of infection in poultry may increase in the coming months as gulls spread inland, possibly overlapping with poultry production areas. Prevention strategies should be implemented in poultry production areas.
Surveillance of susceptible mammals
Mutations associated with genetic adaptation to mammals were detected in some of the circulating viruses both in mammals and birds. In addition, recent mass mortality events in mammals such as sea lions suggest a potential transmission among mammals of the HPAI virus. In this context, EFSA and EURL scientists recommend extending and enhancing surveillance to wild and farmed mammals, particularly American mink and pigs, in risk areas where HPAI is present.
Low risk to the general population
While sporadic avian influenza infections in humans leading to severe disease and fatal outcomes have been reported and human infections remain a rare event. Most of the severe human infections reported lately from countries outside the EU were related to unprotected exposure to sick and dead poultry, particularly in backyard farms.
Circulating viruses preferentially bind to avian-like receptors present in birds and not to human-like receptors, and are susceptible to antivirals. The risk to the general public in Europe is assessed as low, and low to moderate for workers and other people in contact with potentially infected sick and dead birds and mammals.
ECDC, EFSA and EURL recommend the appropriate use of personal protective equipment when in contact with birds. People exposed to infected birds or mammals should be tested and followed-up, in order to early identify potential transmission cases.