Officials advise poultry industry to prepare for infections of H5N8 virus.
Recent outbreaks of a strain of bird flu in European countries are prompting officials to be concerned over the spread of the virus to other countries across the region, and eventually into North America and the US, according to an article on reuters.com.
Matthew Stone, Deputy Director General of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), said so far eight European countries have reported cases of the highly contagious H5N8 strain of the virus. He warned the virus could soon spread to North America via wild birds and cause similar damage to poultry flocks.
Last year, some 50 million chickens, turkeys, and ducks had to be destroyed to stop the spread of the virus in the United States, and Stone advised poultry officials to prepare for new cases in the near future.
In an interview with Reuters, Stone offered, “From the level of exposure that we have seen to date I would expected more detections, hopefully only in wild birds but it is certainly possible that the presence of this virus in wild birds will create an opportunity for exposure in domestic poultry.”
Almost all of the outbreaks in Europe have involved wild birds so far, but the countries of Germany, Hungary and Austria have also reported cases of the virus in domesticated duck and turkey farms, resulting in all of the animals being killed.
The virus can be carried by wild birds that, although they don’t show any symptoms themselves, transmit the bug to poultry farms through their feathers and feces.
Thus far, the deadly H5N8 virus has not been detected in any humans. The same strain led to the destruction of millions of farmed birds across Asia and Europe back in 2014.
Last year’s crisis in the US led to a large increase in the price of eggs, and bans by dozens of countries on US poultry imports, causing wide-scale economic problems across the industry.
Saying an outbreak in North America would be “no surprise at all,” Stone added, “At this stage we have to take history as our best indicator of what may well play out over the next few months.”