No human transmission of largest avian flu epidemic in Europe ever

No human transmission of largest avian flu epidemic in Europe ever
Credit: Belga/Nicolas Maeterlinck

The 2021–2022 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) epidemic season is the largest one observed in Europe so far, according to the latest data from a joint report published on Monday by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Union Reference Laboratory

Their report show a total of 2,467 outbreaks in poultry, 48 million birds culled in the affected establishments, 187 detections in captive birds, and 3,573 HPAI events in wild birds. Additionally, the geographical extent of the outbreak is unprecedented, ranging from Svalbard islands to South Portugal and eastern to Ukraine, affecting 37 European countries.

Influenza viruses circulating in animal species such as pigs or birds can sporadically infect humans, causing mild to very severe disease. These viruses have the potential to severely affect public health, such as during the previous epidemics of avian influenza H5N1 in Egypt or H7N9 in China, or the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic caused by a virus initially spreading from pigs to humans.

A Belgian microbiologist warned in August that massive circulation of bird flu "also puts the human population at risk, because the more the virus circulates, the more likely it is to mutate and adapt to humans”.

However, despite the exceptionally large number of cases recently detected in poultry and birds as well as numerous transmission events of avian influenza to different mammal species, no human transmission has been observed in the EU/EEA in recent years. In addition, only a small number of human infections with asymptomatic or mild disease have been reported globally.

Therefore, the overall risk to the population remains at low levels, but slightly higher to people in occupations where they are directly exposed to infected birds, the report concludes.

“Thankfully, there have been no human infections during the recent outbreaks of avian influenza in the EU/EEA” said Andrea Ammon, ECDC Director. “However, several groups of people, mainly those working in the animal sector, are at increased risk of exposure to infected animals.”

The Brussels Times

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