Greifswald. The European Union’s health authority, ECDC, has spoken of the worst bird flu epidemic in Europe. A large-scale outbreak also occurred for the first time in the summer. It’s hard to predict whether a strong winter wave is imminent, says Tim Harder, head of the National Avian Flu Reference Laboratory at the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI) near Greifswald.
Bird migration is approaching its peak. “Animals of different geographic origins and species are now converging in close proximity at this time. This is of course a perfect opportunity for the virus to find other hosts.”
Due to the migration of birds, bird flu outbreaks so far, especially between October and April. In 2021 cases first appeared in the summer, mainly in northern Europe. But not as much as it was in 2022. “This summer, the concept has been almost completely thrown overboard.” Recently, seabirds breeding in colonies have been hit more: terns and gannets in the North Sea and cormorants in the Baltic Sea. To the north, for example on the coasts of Scotland, Norway and the Faroe Islands to Iceland and Spitsbergen, gull species were particularly affected. For the North Sea alone, Harder assumes that tens of thousands of wild birds have fallen victim to the virus.
Killing millions of animals
Poultry farms were affected, too: In early summer, for example, there was a widespread outbreak of turkey farms in northern Italy, Harder says. Duck farming was particularly affected in France. It is unusual for Spain and Portugal to be affected as well. There have also been several outbreaks across poultry sectors in the UK. According to the ECDC, 48 million animals were culled on farms in Europe during the 2021/2022 bird flu season. In Germany there have been intermittent outbreaks in the summer. Chicken farmers were mostly affected.
According to the FLI, the risks are particularly high for properties on the coasts. However, there are indications that summer infections are spreading again from coasts across Germany. According to Harder, it’s still not clear why the latest epidemic has spread. There are many attempts at interpretation. It begins with climate change and changes in the behavior of wild birds. The sheer scale of the virus circulating was also mentioned. The ECDC recently assessed the risks to humans as low. dpa
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