Bird flu will continue to flare into 2017, Spreading quickly

Bird flu will continue to flare into 2017

Bird flu will continue to flare into 2017

The outbreak of avian flu that decimated farmed and wild birds around the world and in Germany in 2016 doesn’t show signs of letting up in 2017. But experts disagree on the causes behind the outbreak.

Bird flu is back, and is spreading quickly. But don’t worry, the virus isn’t targeting humans – yet.

The H5N8 strain of bird flu reached Europe in October 2016, and since then has been detected in at least 14 countries including France, Denmark and Germany.

In Germany alone, authorities have recorded more than 30 separate incidents of bird flu, leading to the cull of tens of thousands of domesticated chickens, ducks and geese, among others.

In the wild, more than 500 birds are known to have been infected as well.

Wild ducks in Ireland and England, and an outbreak that killed 2,000 ducks in a French farm, are a few of the most recent cases sadly confirming that the outbreak has not ended in 2016 – on the contrary, it continues spreading.

Experts are desperately looking for the origin of the virus – without any official conclusion until now. Some argue that the natural migratory patterns of wild birds are to blame, while others insist industrial livestock farming and international trade are primarily responsible.

European Union and national authorities have adopted urgent protective measures for strict “biosecurity” in farms. But despite the efforts, new cases continue appearing daily.

In the worst-case scenario – a rare one, at that – a species jump could lead to the virus affecting humans.

Geese in a German farm (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Wüstneck
)Are wild or farmed birds to blame for bringing the virus to Europe?

Unidentified origin

With viruses, identifying the origin is the first step in controlling the spread. But it is exactly at this point where experts disagree. Vectors – that is, how the virus is transmitted – remain under discussion.

“Judging by history, it is most likely to spread through the poultry industry,” Ariel Brunner, senior head of policy at BirdLife International, told DW. “But for the moment, we don’t know.”

Indeed, according to a statement from a scientific task force that includes the United Nations Environment Program/Convention on Migratory Species and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), bird flu outbreaks are usually associated with the poultry trade and intensive domestic poultry production.

Lars Lachmann, a bird protection expert with the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), also points to industrial agriculture. Transmission most likely expanded via poultry from Asia to somewhere in Europe, and from there across cities and countries, he said.