Avian Influenza, H5N8, Spreading Rapidly In Europe, What To Do About The Bird Flu – Forbes

Last Updated on November 29, 2020 by

Well, 2020 is now giving Europe the bird. The bird flu, that is.

According to a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) report, since October 16, multiple European countries, including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, have already reported outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses. For example, as Patrick Barkham described for The Guardian, swans in Great Britain have been “spinning in circles and discharging blood from their nostrils” and dying. It’s typically a bad sign to see anyone spinning in circles and discharging something from their nose besides scone fragments from laughing.

It’s not unusual for avian influenza viruses to circulate among the bird population. But “highly pathogenic” influenza viruses are a different story. “Highly pathogenic” is not the same as “highly friendly” or “highly likely to not cause much trouble.” Merriam Webster defines “pathogenic” as “causing or capable of causing disease.” Therefore, someone telling you, “the date was fun, although I found you highly pathogenic,” probably means that there won’t be a second date. Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) A viruses tend to be relatively harmless, often causing no disease. If they do cause illness, it is usually mild, possibly resulting in no more than drops in egg production or some ruffled feathers. In this case, ruffled feathers are actual ruffled feathers and not simply something figurative, such as one bird being very upset at another bird for sleeping with a mutual bird friend. By contrast, HPAI viruses are much more likely to make birds very sick and even kill them.

As of November 19 at 12 pm, testing of birds in Europe has found HPAI viruses 302 times. Most of those detections, 281 of them, have been in wild birds with the barnacle goose being the most common host, yielding 110 positive tests. The greylag goose came in second place with 47, followed by the Eurasian wigeon, the mallard, and the common buzzard. If you are wondering what a barnacle goose looks like, here’s a picture of them:

The grey ones in the photo are goslings. They have nothing to do with Ryan Gosling but rather are young geese.

Not all of the positive tests have been among wild birds, as 18 have been from poultry and three from captive birds. These HPAI viruses have appeared in multiple countries, with the latest being Norway.

Officials have found three different subtypes of HPAI viruses: A(H5N8), A(H5N5) and A(H5N1). In this case, “H” and “N” do not stand for Harry Styles and Nutella, but instead stand for “hemagglutinin” and “neuraminidase,” two types of proteins that are on the surfaces of flu viruses. There are 16 different types of “H” proteins and nine different “N” proteins. This year, of the three HPAI viruses, by far the most common subtype has been influenza A(H5N8) with 284 of the tests in Europe yielding this subtype. All three of these virus subtypes seem to have came from the same initial virus subtype and emerged due to mutations.

It can be challenging to control the spread of HPAI viruses once they have infected enough wild birds. Wild birds don’t tend to follow travel restrictions. Asking them to answer a bunch of questions at the airport is not going to keep them from flying around. They usually don’t need to go to the airport unless they are shopping for duty-free items. Therefore, it’s highly likely that the HPAI A(H5) viruses will continue to spread throughout Europe as wild waterbirds continue to migrate.

That’s prompted some countries to take different measures. For example, the United Kingdom has declared a Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ). This basically means that if you are a birdkeeper in the zone, you should take different precautions to protect your birds. One is making your location unattractive to wild birds. This doesn’t mean hanging bad artwork, posters of Baywatch, or pictures of your exes on your walls or forgetting to put hand soap in your bathroom. It means putting up nets, restricting access to possible food sources, and otherwise making it more difficult for wild birds to come into contact with your birds. Another precaution is to regularly clean and disinfect everything that your birds may touch, such as walls and concrete areas. Also, clean and disinfect anything that may bring viruses into the area, such as your shoes.

Of course, if you aren’t a bird yourself and don’t own any birds, your first question may be whether humans can be infected by these HPAI A(H5) viruses. After all, humans tend to be pretty human-centric. They don’t typically watch the news and wonder, “gee, how will this affect birds?”

So far, the risk to humans seems to be low. No humans have caught the HPAI viruses yet. Nonetheless, as the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has shown, viruses that previously didn’t infect humans could at some point mutate to do so. Therefore, if you see any sick or dead birds, think M.C. Hammer and think “can’t touch this.” Stay away, and instead, contact the proper authorities. You don’t want to give just anyone the birds.

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