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Food Safety

About Avian Influenza (AI)

Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease which occurs primarily in poultry and wild water birds. Avian influenza viruses are either high or low pathogenic viruses (HPAI and LPAI, respectively) depending on the molecular characteristic of the virus and its ability to cause disease and mortality in chickens.

Wild birds are natural hosts and reservoirs for all types of avian influenza viruses, so play a major role in the evolution, maintenance and spread of these viruses.

Poultry infected with LPAI viruses may show mild signs of the disease or none at all. Infections caused by HPAI can cause severe disease and death. Both HPAI and LPAI can spread quickly through flocks. Moreover, certain LPAI viruses can mutate into highly pathogenic strains, which is why it is important that outbreaks are managed promptly. See more information on AI here: EFSA , WOAH.

Questions and answers

See some frequently asked questions regarding Avian Influenza. This list will be updated as more questions get asked.

HPAI outbreaks

Epidemic season 2023-2024

The HPAI epidemic season which started in September 2022 continued in 2023. Starting with the second quarter of 2023, the epidemiological situation has improved in most of the EU Member States. However, during the summer months outbreaks in wild birds continued to be confirmed by several Northern EU Member States.

A new epidemic season started in October 2023 with new introductions of the HPAI virus by migratory wild birds. Common cranes were the most frequently affected species at the beginning of this epidemic. This map represents the distribution of the HPAI detections in the current epidemic season.

A detailed overview on the situation in Member States since the start of the current HPAI epidemic season and the adopted measures is given in the Chronology of events.

HPAI in 2023

The epidemic which started in September 2022 continued during 2023 and affected wild birds, poultry or captive birds in 26 EU Member States. Overall, the 2022-2023 epidemic has been less severe for poultry than the one of 2021-2022. However, the number of HPAI outbreaks in wild birds increased compared with the previous epidemic season. The H5N1 subtype of the HPAI virus continued to be the predominant one detected in the EU, with very few exceptions in the North of the EU, where the H5N5 subtype has been detected in certain species of wild birds.

The colony-breeding seabirds continued to play a significant role in the spread of HPAI virus of H5N1 subtype. Black-headed gulls and several new seabird species, mostly gulls and terns (e.g. sandwich terns), were heavily affected, with increased mortality being observed in both adults and juveniles after hatching. Compared to the last year, dead seabirds have been increasingly found inland and not only along European coastlines.

Since October 2022, HPAI virus of H5N1 subtype has been detected more frequently in mammalian species than in past years, in particular in wild carnivores, fur farm animals, marine mammals and pets, even if overall these remain rare events.

HPAI in 2022

The epidemic which started in October 2021 continued during 2022 and affected wild birds, poultry or captive birds in 25 EU Member States. Overall, the 2021-2022 epidemic has been the largest observed in the EU so far. The H5N1 subtype of the HPAI virus has been the one detected predominantly. Only in few outbreaks, limited to certain areas in the North of the EU, other virus subtypes, like H5N8 and H5N5 have been detected.

Considering detections in wild birds, several seabird species exhibited widespread and massive mortality from HPAI of H5N1 subtype at their breeding colonies. This resulted in an unprecedented high number of HPAI virus detections in wild birds between June and August 2022, a period when no or only a low number of HPAI virus detections had been reported in wild birds in previous years. Those detections were concentrated on the coastal part of the Western EU Member States.

As regards poultry, it has been difficult to rapidly contain the spread of the virus once it entered areas with high concentration of poultry establishments. Several big clusters with a high number of outbreaks have developed in certain areas in France, Italy and Hungary. However, starting with the second quarter of 2022 the epidemiological situation started to improve. A limited number of outbreaks in poultry continued to be detected during the summer months in those areas with persistent circulation of the virus in wild birds.

HPAI in 2021

The HPAI epidemic season which started in October 2020 continued in 2021. Starting with the second quarter of 2021, the epidemiological situation has improved in the majority of the EU Member States. However, outbreaks in wild birds continued to be confirmed by several EU Member States during the summer months.

HPAI in 2020

During 2020, two distinct epidemic seasons of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) were observed in the European Union. The first HPAI epidemic season started on 31 December 2019, with the first outbreak in poultry confirmed in Poland. A new HPAI virus of subtype H5N8 (2020) was involved in the outbreak. By March, the disease was confirmed in Poland, Czechia, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. The H5N8 (2020) subtype of the HPAI virus was responsible for all of these outbreaks. The most affected Member State was Hungary, after the virus entered in the area with with a high density of duck and geese holdings. Outbreaks of HPAI were also detected in Bulgaria between March and June 2020, but the virus involved was of subtype H5N8 which also circulated in Bulgaria in 2018-2019. The last outbreak in poultry related to the first epidemic season of HPAI was confirmed on 5 June 2020.

Only three wild birds were found infected with HPAI during the first half of 2020 (in Germany and Poland). The virus involved was the same as the one detected in the poultry farms.

The second HPAI epidemic season started at the end of October 2020 when the first cases were reported in wild birds in the Netherlands. Again, the first HPAI virus detected was of H5N8 subtype, different from the one that circulated in the first half of the year. Since then and until the end of 2020, a high number of dead and sick wild birds, mostly of migratory species, were found to be infected with HPAI viruses of subtypes H5N8, H5N5, H5N1 and H5N3 being detected by several EU countries and the United Kingdom. The largest number of cases in wild birds were reported in the Northern part of Germany, in Denmark and in the Netherlands. Between October and end of December 2020, the disease was also confirmed in poultry in Croatia, Denmark, France, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

See the map with the distribution of the HPAI detected during 2020, separated by epidemic season.

A detailed overview on the situation in EU countries and the adopted measures is given in the Chronology of events.

HPAI in 2019

During 2019, the HPAI H5N6 subtype was confirmed in wild birds and closely related to other viruses detected during 2017/2018 in wild birds. There were few HPAI outbreaks in poultry during the course of the year. The outbreaks were confirmed in Bulgaria in March-April.

HPAI in 2018

In wild birds only, the HPAI H5N6 subtype was confirmed mainly in the first half of 2018 in Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, Slovak Republic, the United Kingdom and Denmark. Infection persisted at a low level throughout the summer period with a last reported case in mid-September in Denmark. During the second half of 2018, outbreaks of HPAI of subtype H5N8 continued to be confirmed in poultry in Bulgaria, last in mid-December (see map).

HPAI Epidemic 2016/2017

In October 2016, HPAI of subtype H5N8 virus was first detected in a wild bird found dead in Hungary. The virus was then identified in wild birds, poultry farms and/or captive bird holdings (e.g. in zoos) in 19 Member States. Member States with a high density of duck and geese holdings were most affected. By end April 2017 the outbreaks sharply declined, while infection was still detected from July to December 2017 in poultry in Italy and Bulgaria. To a very limited extent, HPAI of subtype H5N6 was detected end 2017 in a poultry holding and in a few captive bird holdings. Based on the genetic analysis of H5N6 viruses detected in Europe and Asia, the EU Reference Laboratory for avian influenza concluded that the European strains can be differentiated from those associated with zoonotic infection in Asia. Furthermore, they do not carry any virulence markers strongly associated with human infection risk. There have been no reported human infections with this particular genetic sub-lineage of H5N6.

Risk assessments

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a scientific opinion on avian influenza in 2017 and since then, quarterly reports on the development of the avian influenza situation in the EU and worldwide.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control collaborates with EFSA on these reports. ECDC also publishes reports and risk assessments in relation to the relevance of avian influenza for humans: risk assessment on public health.

Influenza Preparedness

A Joint meeting of Member States' Chief Veterinary and Chief Medical Officers on Influenza Preparedness in the context of One Health took place on 23 and 24 October in Brussels.

Member States' responsible authorities for animal and human health, the EU agencies EFSA and ECDC and international organisations - the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) - met to address the EU's enhanced preparedness and intersectoral co-operation for the next epidemic waves of animal and human influenza using an One Health approach.

The EU works closely with international partners in the fight against avian influenza. Regular contacts and information exchange occur between the European Commission, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)

Prevention and control measures for HPAI

All suspected cases of HPAI in poultry or captive birds must be investigated and appropriate measures in accordance with the Regulation (EU) 2016/429 ("Animal Health Law") and the rules for the prevention and control of certain diseases laid down in Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2020/687 have to be taken in case of confirmation.

To limit the spread, stamping-out measures must be implemented in the infected poultry or captive bird establishments as soon as possible. Feeding stuffs, contaminated equipment and manure must be destroyed or treated to inactivate the virus.

To prevent further spread of disease the competent authorities are required to immediately put in place movement restrictions on the affected establishment and on the establishments located in the restricted zone which consists in a protection zone and a surveillance zone with a radius of at least 3 and 10 kilometres respectively around the affected establishment. If necessary, stamping-out measures can also be extended to poultry farms in the vicinity or to farms that have had dangerous contacts with infected farm.

At farm level, appropriate measures to prevent the direct or indirect contact of poultry with wild birds, together with preventive hygiene measures such as cleaning and disinfection are crucial. Disease awareness amongst farmers and co-operation by all persons in the poultry sector must ensure that the strictest bio-security measures are applied to prevent the introduction of the HPAI virus in the establishments and the (further) spread of the disease.

EU zoning/emergency measures

In order to avoid unjustified disruptions in the movement of animals and products within the Union and international trade, the Commission adopts Implementing Decisions to list the restricted zones established in collaboration with the Member States affected by outbreaks of HPAI in poultry or captive birds.

When the epidemiological situation so requires, additional emergency measures can be adopted by the Commission in collaboration with the Member States through the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed.

Vaccination against HPAI

In accordance with Animal Health Law, Member States may, based on a risk assessment, use vaccination to ensure the most efficient prevention or control of the disease, provided that such measures are appropriate or necessary. Vaccination against HPAI may be used as an emergency or preventive measure, based on an official vaccination plan and under the control of the competent authority. The Member States deciding to implement vaccination against HPAI need inform the Commission and the other Member States on such decision, on the vaccination plan and to regularly report on the implementation of such plan.

Vaccinated birds may still become infected by the virus. They must therefore be monitored closely to detect virus infection. Such enhanced surveillance coupled with certain risk-mitigation measures are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus through vaccinated animals or products from such animals.

For HPAI, Delegated Regulation (EU) 2023/361 lays down specific rules to be implemented by Member States when using vaccination in poultry or captive birds to prevent or control the disease and sets the conditions that enable movement of vaccinated animals and their products. These rules have been in force since 12 March 2023 and are in line with World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, founded as OIE) international standards.

A side event was organised by the EU on 22 May 2023 during the 90th General Session of WOAH, where the Commission briefly presented the main framework of these new specific rules on HPAI vaccination and the intermediate results of the vaccination trials carried out by certain Member States.

Surveillance for Avian Influenza

Since 2003 EU Member States must carry out surveillance programmes for avian influenza aimed at early detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses and at detecting infections with low pathogenic avian influenza viruses of the H5 and H7 subtypes in poultry which have the potential to mutate to the highly pathogenic form of the virus.

The surveillance for avian influenza is compulsory and, in accordance with Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/690, highly pathogenic avian influenza and infection with low pathogenic avian influenza viruses are subject to Union surveillance programmes, which are programmes relevant for the Union as a whole.

Avian influenza surveillance in poultry and wild birds must be implemented on the entire territory of all EU Member States and in accordance with the provisions laid down in Annex II to Delegated Regulation (EU) 2020/689 .

In accordance with Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/2002 Member States shall submit to the Commission every year, data on the results of the implementation of the Union surveillance programmes. The data shall be submitted electronically via the Animal Disease Information System (ADIS).

European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL)

Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie, Italy , designated as EURL for Avian Influenza, is assisting actively in the diagnosis of highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks in Member States, by carrying out confirmatory diagnosis. It also ensures that national reference laboratories of the Member States are correctly implement harmonized and up-to-date diagnostic protocols for Avian Influenza.

Annual meetings of the national reference laboratories:

Programme and presentations

Proceedings of the Joint Annual Meetings:

Human Health Implications

The infection with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus is primarily a bird disease, and has so far affected only humans who came into very close contact with infected birds. However, the concern is that this virus could mutate into a strain which is transmissible from human to human. This in turn could lead to a human influenza pandemic. The European Union is currently devoting important resources into preparing for such an eventuality.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

1. Chronology of events

All actions taken by the Commission aim to stop the spread of the disease, to eradicate it as soon as possible, to ensure the safe movement, imports and exports of animals and their products and to inform trading partners and other interested parties about the actions taken at Community level. The measures taken are in line with Community legislation and the requirements of the Word Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH).

Since 2003 the main events and the Commission actions are summarised in the following Chronologies:

  • 2023 HPAI in EU Member States
  • 2022 HPAI in EU Member States
  • 2021 HPAI in EU Member States
  • 2020 HPAI in EU Member States
  • 2019 HPAI in EU Member States
  • 2018 HPAI in EU Member States
  • 2017 HPAI in EU Member States
  • 2016 HPAI in EU Member States
  • 2015 HPAI in EU Member States
  • 2014 HPAI in EU Member States
  • 2013 HPAI outbreaks in Italy
  • 2011 AI in EU Member State and third countries
  • 2010 AI in EU Member State and third countries
  • 2009 AI in EU Member State and third countries
  • 2008 AI in EU Member State and third countries
  • 2007 AI in EU Member State and third countries
  • 2006 AI in EU Member State and third countries (Including overview of events in 2004-2005)
  • 2003-2005 AI in third countries

In addition, detailed information on AI epidemics in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany (28 February-22 August 2003)

2. EU External Response

The European Commission works closely together with international partners such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH).

On 17-18 December 2005, the Commission co-hosted an international pledging conference on Avian influenza with the World Bank and the People's Republic of China. In Beijing, the international community pledged a total amount of 1.57 billion Euro to fight avian influenza and prepare for a possible flu pandemic. Europe played a central role in the fundraising effort. The Commission not only co-hosted the event, it also pledged 100 million Euro. Taken together with the 114 million Euro pledged by the EU Member States, the EU in total pledged around 214 million euro.