Highly pathogenic avian influenza: 2021-2022 epidemic is the largest ever observed in Europe

An unprecedented number of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus detections were reported in wild and domestic birds from June to September in Europe, according to the latest overview by the European Food Safety Authority, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the EU reference laboratory.

Between 11 June and 9 September 2022, 788 HPAI virus detections were reported in 16 European countries, with 56 in poultry, 22 and 710 in captive and wild birds, respectively. This compares with no cases or only a few cases detected during the summer period in previous years.

An unusual persistence in wild birds continued throughout the summer and occurred in 15 European countries. The virus reached sea bird breeding colonies on the north Atlantic coast, causing massive mortality, particularly in Germany, France, Netherlands, and the UK.

Heavily infected wild birds presented an ongoing risk of infection for domestic birds. From June to September, the number of outbreaks in domestic birds declined compared to previous months, but was more than five times higher compared to the same period the year before.

EFSA recommends the rapid implementation of suitable and sustainable HPAI mitigation strategies, including appropriate biosecurity measures and surveillance strategies for early detection. Medium to long-term prevention strategies should be considered in densely populated areas and in poultry production systems highly susceptible to avian influenza exposure.

The ongoing HPAI season has produced the largest epidemic seen so far in Europe, with a total of 2,467 outbreaks in poultry and 47.7 million birds culled in affected establishments. In addition, 187 detections were notified in captive birds and 3,573 HPAI events were recorded in wild birds. The geographical reach of this year’s epidemic is also unprecedented, with reported cases ranging from the Svalbard islands in Norway to southern Portugal, and as far east as Ukraine, affecting 37 European countries in total.

In autumn 2021, the HPAI A(H5N1) virus also crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, spreading from Europe to North America along migration routes and causing a severe epidemic in poultry in several Canadian provinces and US States as well as causing mortality in wild birds.

Article: European Food Safety Authority, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, European Reference Laboratory for Avian Influenza, Adlhoch, C., Fusaro, A., Gonzales, J.L., Kuiken, T., Marangon, S., Niqueux, É., Staubach, C., Terregino, C., Aznar, I., Chuzhakina, K., Muñoz Guajardo, I., Baldinelli, F., 2022. Scientific Report: Avian influenza overview June–September 2022. EFSA Journal, 20(10):7597, 58 pp., doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2022.7597

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