Wild birds possible source of H5N8

by Erica Shaffer
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PARMA, Italy – A new scientific report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) states that the entry point of highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza is uncertain, but materials contaminated by infected wild birds may have contributed to the virus' spread in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

“Experts say that there are no known direct migration routes from East Asia to Europe,” the agency said in its report. “One hypothesis is that infected migratory birds from East Asia transmit the virus to other species at breeding and stopover places in Eurasia, but this hypothesis needs further investigation.”

Another idea is that the virus entered Europe indirectly via human activities or contaminated items such as vehicles or equipment. But scientists have ruled out direct transmission from wild birds to farmed poultry, according to EFSA.

To date, the H5N8 virus has been reported in South Korea, Japan, China, German, the UK and the Netherlands. South Korea reported the first outbreak in January. The first affected farm in Europe was confirmed on Nov. 4 at a turkey farm in Germany, followed by confirmation at a duck farm in the UK and at five poultry farms in the Netherlands.

EFSA issued some recommendations such as assessing biosecurity procedures at farm and improving them where necessary. The agency also recommended targeted surveillance of wild birds in high risk areas and further investigation of possible entry routes of H5N8 into Europe. Additionally, EFSA said national and European labs and risk assessment institutions should continue cooperating in order to ensure timely analyses of virus spread within the EU.
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