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Avian Influenza

Avian Influenza

Avian influenza, a highly contagious viral disease which occurs in poultry and other birds, is caused by several different types of Influenza A viruses. It is primarily a bird disease, although there have been cases of avian influenza viruses being transmitted to humans and other animals through close contact with live infected birds. H5N1 is a subtype of the Influenza A virus that can cause illness in humans and animals.

EU framework

EU legislation on avian influenza is laid down in Directives 92/40/EEC and 2005/94/EEC which set out rules on the surveillance, control and eradication measures to be taken in the event of a highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak.

EFSA’s role and activities

EFSA’s role is to provide European risk managers with objective scientific advice on the animal health and welfare dimension of avian influenza and any possible food safety issues. Since the risk of avian influenza was first identified, EFSA has issued a substantial body of scientific advice to assist risk managers in taking appropriate decisions and actions. EFSA is constantly reviewing the scientific information available on avian influenza and updates its advice accordingly.

To carry out its scientific work, EFSA is in regular contact to exchange information with national food safety authorities, the European Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and other International Organisations active in this field.

Food safety aspects

EFSA initially issued advice on the food safety aspects of avian influenza in 2004 and provided updates in 2005, confirming that there is no available epidemiological evidence that avian influenza can be transmitted to humans through consumption of food, notably poultry and eggs. EFSA continued to monitor and analyse the scientific data available and issued a report in March 2006 looking at whether consuming food contaminated with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus could potentially initiate infection in mammals via the digestive route.

The presence of H5N1 avian influenza in parts of continental Europe has raised public concern with respect to the safety of poultry products and eggs for human consumption. The European Food Safety Authority advises that there is no evidence to suggest to date that avian influenza can be transmitted to humans through consumption of food, notably poultry and eggs. The European Food Safety Authority further confirms that there should be no change to longstanding food safety advice that poultry products be properly cooked in order to protect consumers from possible risks of food poisoning.

Animal health and welfare aspects

EFSA issued advice in September 2005 on the animal health and welfare aspects of avian influenza, providing information on the risks of the virus entering and spreading amongst poultry in Europe and making recommendations to prevent the existing risks. This report provided the scientific basis for risk management measures put into practice in Europe on the animal health dimension of avian influenza.

Birds migration and the spread of avian influenza amongst EU bird populations

EFSA issued advice in April 2006 on the role of migratory birds in the spread of the H5N1 form of avian influenza. It identified free range, backyard flocks and poultry holdings near wetlands as being most at risk, listed the bird species which are more likely to expose domestic poultry to H5N1 through either close contact or shared water and soil, and made recommendations for risk managers rooted in a range of bio-security measures.

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