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Bird flu, alert in Europe. Update

2020, escape from viruses. In addition to Covid-19, the alert on African swine fever is added, as seen, and that on avian flu. Update on Avian Influence (AI) in Europe and brief notes.

2020, bird flu in Europe

the 30.9.20 the alert was triggered on the spread in Europe of a highly pathogenic avian influenza strain (H5N8) affecting wild and domestic birds. The H5N8 strain - reported in 2019 in western Russia and northern Kazakhstan - arrived with migratory birds in Hungary and Bulgaria, in early 2020. Up to other territories in Northeast Europe - United Kingdom, Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany - and then go south to Corsica (France). Provisional surveillance and protection measures have been adopted both by the European Commission and by individual Member States. (1)

The alert arose following the latest update report, published by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) and ECDC (European Center for Disease Prevention and Control) on 30.9.20. (2) All Member States have been urged to take extraordinary measures to prevent and detect suspected cases, increase biosecurity measures and promptly notify any outbreak to the competent authorities. The European reference laboratory for avian influenza and Newcastle disease is the Experimental Zooprophylactic Institute of Venice (IZSV). In Italy, the Ministry of Health has therefore ordered the intensification of surveillance and biosecurity measures throughout the national territory. (3)

bird flu

Experimental Zoprophylactic Institute of the Venezie, avian flu outbreak map, July-November 2020 

Avian influenza, viruses and pathogenicity

The virus it is classified into several subtypes, based on the two surface antigens. The outer casing (envelope) has two glycoproteins, haemagglutinins (HA) and neuraminidase (NA). And the 16 types of HA can be variably combined with the 9 types of NA to configure different subtypes of InfluenzavirusA. From the pathogenetic point of view, highly pathogenic influenza viruses are distinguished (highly pathogenic avian influence, HPAI) and low pathogenic viruses (LPAI).

Wild aquatic birds, belonging to the orders Anseriforms e Charadriforms, act as natural reservoirs of all H5 or H7 viruses in the low pathogenic form. However, which - following transmission from wild birds, during migrations, to farmed poultry (chickens and turkeys) - are subject to genetic mutations that transform them into highly pathogenic viruses.

Mutations and zooonotic potential

Bird flu (AI) is a highly contagious infectious disease affecting numerous species of birds, both wild and domestic. The presence of the H5N1 virus in domestic poultry is a cause for concern as it can also infect other animals (pigs, horses, dogs).

Under certain conditions, its coexistence with the human influenza virus could give rise to a new virus capable of being easily transmitted to humans. The virus of the genus InfluenzavirusA therefore has a zoonotic potential. In other words, it could make the so-called 'leap of species'.

Classical prevention and its limits

The general approach towards viruses - avian flu, African swine fever and even SARS-CoV2 - is currently rooted in the prevention of contagion and the research of vaccines. Contagion prevention can be very difficult, especially when it comes to highly contagious viruses and where:

- monitoring systems (tracing, of infected animals and / or humans) are ineffective,

- basic sanitation facilities are lacking. (4)

The search for vaccines suitable, in the case of influenza viruses, is moreover problematic since they are subject to frequent mutations. And it is therefore that the composition of the flu vaccine is updated every year, on the indications of the WHO (World Health Organization, or World Health Organization, WHO). Based on an estimate of the strains that are expected to circulate more in the following months.

Possible horizons

The intestinal microbiota, responsible for modulating the immune system, is the object of growing attention from the international scientific community. (5) The correlations between various models of balanced nutrition - with inputs of various nutrients (eg. Omega 3, prebiotic and probiotic fibers, dietary fibers, polyphenols, microalgae) - and a better efficiency of the immune system. (6)

The immune system of animals in turn can be strengthened through feed additions - and del petfood, for pets - with a mix of algae, microalgae and phytocompounds (eg Algatan) that have proven their effectiveness in numerous scientific studies. (7) With applications in poultry farms, as well as pigs and sheep, which in Italy have made it possible to reduce and eliminate the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry. But these researches, like those on the effectiveness of vitamin D to prevent and mitigate the effects of Covid-19 LINK, seem completely neglected by political decision-makers as well as by economic operators and the press. Compulsion to repeat or conflicts of interest? (8)

Dario Dongo and Carmela Mele


(1) See most recently Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2020/1606 of 30 October 2020 concerning certain interim protective measures against highly pathogenic avian influenza of the subtype H5N8 in the Netherlands (C / 2020/7633).
(2) EFSA, ECDC. Avian influenza overview May - August 2020. EFSA Journal, Volume 18, Issue 9, September 2020.
(3) Ministry of Health, DGSAF, note 2.10.20 n. 21329
(4) Dario Dongo. Covid-19, World Water Report. Precautions impossible for 55% of humanity. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 17.4.20/XNUMX/XNUMX,à
(5) Paola Palestini. Microbiome and intestine, the second brain. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 14.2.19/XNUMX/XNUMX,
(6) Dario Dongo and Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Gut microbiota, diet and health. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 19.6.20/XNUMX/XNUMX,
(7) Dario Dongo and Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Animal husbandry, algae and microalgae to prevent the use of antibiotics. Algatan. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 19.6.20/XNUMX/XNUMX,
(8) Jodie McVernon (Associate Professor, Public Health, University of Melbourne, Australia). Controversies in medicine: the rise and fall of the challenge to Tamiflu. The Conversation. 30.9.15,

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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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Veterinary Manager - Animal Health, ASSL of Cagliari. Veterinarian specialized in the pig sector.

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