(ORDO NEWS) — Nearly 50 million birds have been culled amid efforts to reduce the spread of the virus that continues to devastate the Northern Hemisphere.
The highly pathogenic strain of H5N1 influenza, also known as bird flu, that has plagued Europe and North America all summer is showing no signs of abating, officials warn.
More than 2,600 outbreaks have been reported in domestic flocks and more than 3,500 cases in wild birds from 37 European countries, according to the latest European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) epidemic survey.
“I am a scientist by training, and like all scientists, I’m used to taking a measured approach and not being flippant about the language I use,” Geoff Knott, director of policy at UK-based conservation charity RSPB, told National Geographic.
“But the gravity of the situation and the scale of the impact is unprecedented and very, very scary. This is a huge crisis that could turn into a catastrophe if we don’t get ahead of it.”
The H5N1 strain of the highly pathogenic avian influenza 126.96.36.199b, which emerged in the early 2010s, typically follows a seasonal cycle: infections are detected in the winter and cases decline by summer.
This year, however, things were different. The mass death of seabirds in the spring heralded a record-breaking summer: in 2022, the number of outbreaks from June to September was five times greater than during the same period in 2021, according to The Guardian.
And for the first time, the virus has spread along migratory routes to North America, according to a press release from EFSA.
“Unfortunately, we expect the number of cases to rise in the coming months as migratory birds return to the UK, bringing with them additional risk of disease that could spread to our managed flocks,” Christine Middlemiss, Chief Veterinary Officer, said in a statement. British doctor.
The scale of the epidemic raises fears among experts that the infection has become an endemic, year-round threat to birds, according to Reuters. More than 60 species of birds, including raptors, have tested positive for the virus, as have some wild mammals, Knott said.
In the US and Canada, infections have been found in marine mammals and terrestrial carnivores, EFSA notes in its review, raising concerns that the virus “may be further adapted to mammals.”
Those who work with birds are at increased risk of infection and should continue to take precautions, Andrea Ammon, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, told the BBC.
“We need to be vigilant to detect cases of infection with influenza viruses as early as possible and inform about risk assessment and public health measures,” she adds.
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