The current avian influenza situation has been raising concerns within the international community. Since October 2021, an unprecedented number of outbreaks has been reported in several regions of the world, reaching new geographical areas and causing devastating impacts on animal health and welfare. The disease puts at risk global food security and the livelihoods of those who depend on poultry farming. It has also led to an alarming rate of wild bird die-offs and has affected other wildlife including sea and land mammals.
While it primarily affects poultry and wild birds, avian influenza can occasionally be transmitted to mammals, including humans. A rising number of H5N1 avian influenza cases has been reported in several mammalian animals both terrestrial and aquatic, causing morbidity and mortality. This sparks growing concern about the threat for the health of domestic and wild animals, biodiversity, and potentially for public health.
The current situation highlights the risk that H5N1 avian influenza may become better adapted to mammals, and spill over to humans and other animals. In addition, some mammals, such as mink, may act as mixing vessels for different influenza viruses, leading to the emergence of new strains and subtypes that could be more harmful to animals and/or humans. Recently reported infections in farmed mink are a concern because infections of large numbers of mammals kept in close proximity of each other exacerbate this risk. Several studies are currently on-going to further explore the virulence and transmissibility (including between mammals) of these viruses.
In collaboration with its network of experts, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) is closely monitoring the situation to assess the risks to animals and humans.
WOAH calls on its Members to:
- Maintain enhanced disease SURVEILLANCE in domestic and wild birds.
- PREVENT the spread of the disease by implementing strict biosecurity measures in poultry holdings. In particular, step up the biosecurity around mink farms to avoid the introduction of the virus.
- CONTROL movements of susceptible domestic animals and their products to avoid disease spread.
- PROTECT humans in close contact with, or handling poultry or sick domestic or wild animals. Exposed humans should always take precautionary measures, including wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly when investigating die-offs or outbreaks.
- MONITOR susceptible domestic and wild animals. Investigate any unusual increase of mortality events in wild animals (die-offs).
- REPORT cases of avian influenza in all species to WOAH through WAHIS and in accordance with international standards. Timely and transparent reporting is key to maintain a good knowledge of the disease situation and to prevent any type of misinformation or disinformation.
- SHARE genetic sequences of avian influenza viruses in publicly available databases.
WOAH is fully committed to supporting its Members mitigate risks against the impact of avian influenza and will continue to engage with its networks of experts as well as public and private partners, notably through the One Health Quadripartite Alliance and the Global Framework for transboundary animal diseases (GF-TADs) to provide technical updates as more information becomes available.