13/02/2020 2 mins

Avian influenza outbreak in Eastern Europe: risk assessment for France

Since late December 2019, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses of subtype H5N8 have been identified in domestic and wild birds in Eastern Europe and Germany. ANSES conducted an emergency assessment of the level of risk of transmission of these HPAI viruses by wild birds in metropolitan France. It concluded that, in the current situation, there is no reason to increase the level of risk of virus transmission by wild birds.

Between 31 December 2019 and 29 January 2020, 29 outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) were reported in domestic poultry, one outbreak in captive wild birds and two cases in wild birds. The HPAI viruses identified are different from those that circulated in Europe in 2016 and 2018.

Wild bird migration periods and movements have an impact on the level of risk of transmission of influenza viruses to poultry farms and captive birds. The southward migrations, which last from the end of August to mid-December, are now over and the migratory birds currently found in Eastern European countries will be migrating to the north-east, therefore moving away from France. In view of the current situation, ANSES assessed the level of risk of virus transmission by wild birds according to the criteria it had established in 2016 (PDF) (in French) (in French) during a previous episode of avian influenza.

Following this emergency expert appraisal, the experts concluded that in the current situation there is no need to raise the risk level in effect, regardless of the areas considered in France, whether wetlands, areas with a high density of open-air farms, or the rest of the country. However, they pointed out that the possible occurrence of a prolonged severe cold spell in the coming weeks could lead to this conclusion being reconsidered.

They also recommend reinforcing surveillance of wild birds in France and maintaining awareness among poultry owners regarding infection and biosecurity measures, including in relation to poultry transport. The recent outbreak in Germany, which occurred in a backyard flock near Stuttgart, underlines the importance of these recommendations.