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Highly pathogenic avian flu boom, Wageningen tests three vaccines

The EFSA report on highly pathogenic avian influenza records an unprecedented spread in Europe in the summer of 2022, while the University of Wageningen (NL) announces the testing of three vaccines.

1) Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), 2020-2021

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (highly pathogenic avian influence, HPAI), as we have seen, is a highly contagious infectious disease that affects many species of birds, both wild and domestic (or farmed). And it is potentially capable of infecting other animal species (eg pigs, equidae, dogs). (1)

The European alert on the spread of its H5N8 strain - registered on 30.9.20 following the EFSA report (European Food Safety Authority) and ECDC (European Center for Disease Prevention and Control) - led the European Commission and several EU Member States to adopt interim surveillance and protection measures in 2021. (2)

2) HPAI, 2021-2022

The epidemic of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) recorded in 2021-2022 the largest geographic extension observed so far in Europe, in 37 countries, from the Svalbard Islands (Norway) to southern Portugal. EFSA reports 2.467 poultry outbreaks with a total of 47,7 million culled, over 187 outbreaks in captive birds and 3.573 HPAI virus detections in wild birds.

In the period between 11.6.22 and 9.9.22 16 detections of HPAI viruses in poultry (788), captive (56) and wild birds (22) have been reported in 710 European countries. With widespread mortality of several seabird species, due to the HPAI A (H5N1) virus along the northwestern European coast. And a number of infected premises, on farms, five times higher than that observed in the same period of 2021 (especially on the Atlantic coast). (3)

3) Avian influenza in Europe, current scenario

The strategies in response to this new epidemiological situation 'include the definition and rapid implementation of adequate and sustainable HPAI mitigation strategies, such as appropriate biosecurity measures and surveillance strategies for early detection in different poultry production systems. 

Viruses currently in circulation in Europe belong to cluster 2.3.4.4b with seven genotypes, three of which identified for the first time in this period, identified during the summer. HPAI A (H5) viruses have also been detected in wild mammal species in Europe and North America and have shown genetic markers of replication adaptation in mammals. ' (3)

4) Risks of zoonosis

The latest report from EFSA recalls reports from China of five human infections, two of which are from A (H5N6), two from A (H9N2) and one from A (H10N3). The risk of infection in the European Economic Area (27 EU Member States, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), is rated as low for the general population and low to medium for occupationally exposed workers.

the 3.10.22 ECDC (European Center for Disease Prevention and Control) published an update on zoonosis risk preparation plans, training courses and simulation exercises in a context One Health (4,5). Focusing on the need to test for virus infections in patients with respiratory diseases and recent exposure to potentially infected animals.

5) University of Wageningen, testing of three vaccines

Il Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR) - commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality - has launched a first trial of three vaccines against avian influenza (H5 virus), made on the basis of different technologies by three pharmaceutical companies. The experimentation is carried out on laying hens, for three months, in the structures of the high containment unit of the WBVR.

The experimentation aims to verify the effect of vaccines on the clinical signs of the disease, but also their effectiveness against the spread of the virus. 'If the vaccinated birds became infected without showing signs of disease'- explains bird flu researcher Nancy Beerens -'they could cause a 'silent' spread between farms'.

'We expect new types of vaccines can provide better protection against the spread of the virus than previous vaccines. Furthermore, it is possible to distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals with specific diagnostic tests', continues Nancy Beers. Several EU countries have initiated studies on vaccination against avian flu e 'The results of these studies are very important in view of the future European agricultural policy, which could allow the vaccination of poultry'.

Dario Dongo 

Footnotes

(1) Dario Dongo, Carmela Mele. Bird flu, alert in Europe. Update. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 18.11.20

(2) Giorgio Perrone. Bird flu, contagion on farms is growing. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 2.12.21

(3) EFSA. Avian influenza overview June - September 2022. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/7597 EFSAJournal 2022; 20 (10): 7597

(4) European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Testing and detection of zoonotic influenza virus infections in humans in the EU / EEA, and occupational safety and health measures for those exposed at work. https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/zoonotic-influenza-virus-infections-humans-testing-and-detection Stockholm: ECDC; 2022

(5) Dario Dongo. One Health. Animal, human and planetary health and wellbeing. What can we do? GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 2.6.21

(6) Wageningen University. Trial with three vaccines against bird flu. https://www.wur.nl/en/research-results/research-institutes/bioveterinary-research/show-bvr/trial-with-three-vaccines-against-bird-flu.htm. Press release. 29.9.22

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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