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FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Emergent Avian Influenza virus detected in surveillance of migratory birds in Russian Federation

FAO is advising countries to be on high alert for possible spread of a virus detected recently in wild birds at Lake Ubsu-Nur in the Tyva Republic of Russian Federation.

In late May and early June 2016, surveillance activities conducted in wild migratory bird populations at Ubsu-Nur Lake detected a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus of the H5N8 subtype. The virus was confirmed in samples collected from several species of waterfowl, including black-headed gulls, grey heron, great cormorants, great-crested grebe, common terns and ducks.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses subtypes H5 or H7 often cause high morbidity and mortality in gallinaceous poultry, such as domestic chickens. They can also affect other poultry, such as ducks, geese and quail, although some strains can produce only mild or even asymptomatic infections in waterfowl. HPAI viruses of the H5 type are sometimes isolated from wild birds, mostly aquatic species. Morbidity and mortality in these birds varies from species to species and between seasons, and depends on the age and immunological experience of individual birds.

Ubsu-Nur is a vast wetland area that attracts an abundance of diverse aquatic birds. It is an important stopover site for migratory birds using the Central Asian Flyway, which covers a large continental area of Eurasia between the Arctic and Indian oceans.

“With the post-breeding movements of water birds, there is a possibility that the pathogen could be introduced into the Siberian lowland, thus opening a way for the virus to invade stopover sites along the West Eurasian and Afro-Eurasian water bird migration systems,” said FAO disease ecology expert and co-author of the report Sergei Khomenko.

According to FAO, it is possible that the H5N8 virus will spread westward and southward in the same manner observed with the earlier another emergent highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, H5N1. For this reason, it recommends that countries in Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Europe and West Africa – especially those that have experienced outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the past – be on alert and increase their passive surveillance over the next six to twelve months.

Recommendations
FAO recommends intensified surveillance and awareness raising by national authorities. General recommendations:

  • It is important to report sick or dead birds – both wild birds and poultry.
  • National authorities should ensure that the means for laboratory testing are in place to detect viruses.
  • Farmers and poultry producers should step up their biosecurity measures in order to prevent potential virus introduction from wild birds. To help prevent transmission, it is important to keep poultry and other animals wherever possible away from wild birds and their sub-products.
  • Hunting associations and wildlife authorities should be informed that H5N8 and other viruses might be present in waterfowl hunted at the end of summer and during fall migration 2016.
  • Consumers should wash hands properly, eat only well-cooked meat products, and refrain from collecting, consuming or selling animals found sick or dead.

“The surveillance conducted at Lake Ubsu-Nur, and prompt reporting by the Russian Federation providing information on the subtype and genetic characterization of the virus, were highly valuable for early warning and outbreak preparedness purposes,” said FAO chief veterinary officer Juan Lubroth. “Additional monitoring and systematic seasonal surveillance at selected wetland sites in Central Asia could prove to be a very useful means of forecasting avian influenza epidemics in Eurasia, the Middle East or Africa.”

27 September 2016, Budapest, Hungary

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