Alert: Increased Risk of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreaks in Wild Bird Populations in Africa

Rome, 18 February 2022FAO recommends countries in Africa to be on high alert for wild bird mortalities due to H5 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Given recent reports from West and Southern Africa detecting the virus in Great White Pelicans and coastal birds respectively, the risk of HPAI introduction into other African countries and outbreaks in wild bird populations is regarded as high. Countries should have in place enhanced measures for early detection, diagnosis and outbreak response, in both wild birds and poultry.


On 25 January 2022, Senegal observed unusual wild bird mortalities at the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary, a UNESCO and Ramsar site. The outbreak affected 883 Great White Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) of which 758 died, the majority being juvenile birds. On 4 February 2022, wild bird die-offs were reported in bordering Diawling National Park, another UNESCO and Ramsar site, this time in south west Mauritania. The outbreak was caused by an HPAI virus and also predominantly affected juvenile Great White Pelicans, raising concerns about population conservation. National park staff are cleaning up the outbreak sites, removing carcasses and preventing predators from accessing the bird colony and spreading the virus by feeding on or carrying infected carcasses. The two parks are in the geographical area between Senegal and Mauritania.

Samples collected by wildlife authorities in Senegal tested positive for H5N1 HPAI virus, however further characterization is awaited. It is very likely that the virus belongs to clade, given its current circulation and predominance in Europe and West Africa, both in wild and domestic birds.

These events follow a similar spatio-temporal pattern as observed at the end of January 2021, when H5N1 HPAI outbreaks were reported in pelicans in those same sites of Mauritania and Senegal. Recently published phylogenetic and spatial investigations indicated that H5N1 HPAI viruses involved in the 2021 events were closely related to H5 HPAI viruses clade circulating in Europe at that time, particularly the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Italy, and that a highly likely source of introduction was through wild bird migrations coming from Europe along the East Atlantic flyway (Lo Fatou et al., 2022).

Over the past months, H5N1 HPAI viruses have been frequently detected in European wild bird populations (e.g. United Kingdom, the Netherlands) and outbreaks were reported in shorebirds in Namibia and South Africa, and in Common cranes (Grus grus) in Israel. Several countries of the West Africa Region continue to report outbreaks of the disease in poultry, with regional spread facilitated by poultry trade. Furthermore, with HPAI well established in the West and Southern Africa regions, virus spillover from poultry to wild birds might also occur and result in further spread of the disease.

Countries in Africa should therefore be on high alert for introduction and spread of H5N1 HPAI virus, either through wild bird movements and/or poultry trade.

It is crucial to maintain and enhance efforts in monitoring wild bird die-offs and responding quickly to HPAI outbreaks to control the disease in wetlands of international importance, particularly in species under conservation efforts, and prevent further spread or spillover. It is important to highlight that spillover of AI viruses may happen either way: from wild birds to poultry or from poultry to wild birds.

The management of HPAI outbreaks in wild birds can be challenging due to multiple factors such as site accessibility, soil cover, wild bird stress, and lack of human and financial resources, among others.

In this context, FAO organized a webinar to share country experiences in the management of large-scale HPAI outbreaks in wild birds and lessons learned on 10 February 2022 and the recording is accessible via FAO’s YouTube channel (in English):



H5 HPAI situation update for sub-Saharan Africa and Global zoonotic AIV situation update are issued monthly by FAO EMPRES.

On 24 January 2022, the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds has issued a statement entitled H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in poultry and wild birds: Winter of 2021/2022 with focus on mass mortality of wild birds in UK and Israel which provides exhaustive recommendations and guidance for those managing regionally and globally important sites for waterbirds and other wildlife.


FAO recommends intensified surveillance and awareness raising by national authorities, investigating any observed mortalities in wild birds or poultry for HPAI.

There is no benefit to be gained in attempting to control the virus in wild birds through culling or habitat destruction. Spraying of birds or the environment with disinfectant – for example sodium hypochlorite or bleach – is considered potentially counter-productive, harmful to the environment and not effective from a disease control perspective.

There is also no justification for any pre-emptive culling of endangered species in zoological collections. Control measures for captive wild birds in places where virus is detected should be based on isolating the affected and surrounding areas and applying strict movement control.


  • Increase surveillance efforts for the early detection of H5 and other avian influenza viruses in poultry and dead wild birds.
  • At national level, provide means for reporting sick or dead birds, e.g. hotlines and collection points.
  • Raise awareness of national park staff, populations living around wetland/wild bird resting areas, poultry producers or marketers and hunters(-gatherers) both about the disease as well as the reporting mechanisms for sick or dead birds.
  • Collaborate with hunters associations for sample collection and screening of hunted birds, especially in areas that are known to be affected.
  • Provide means for, and ensure proper disposal of infected carcasses.
  • Ensure that the means for laboratory testing are in place to detect the currently circulating avian influenza viruses, especially those of clade (contact:
  • Gene sequencing should be performed for all H5 viruses detected, either in national, regional or international reference laboratories. FAO can assist with the shipment of samples (contact: Results should be shared with the global community in a timely manner to aid understanding of how the virus is spreading.
  • Action on wild birds are not recommended.


  • Hunter(-gatherer) communities/associations and wildlife authorities should be aware that H5  and other avian influenza viruses might be present in waterfowl hunted and that hunting, handling and dressing of shot waterfowl carries the risk of spreading avian influenza viruses to susceptible poultry, and of exposing people to the virus.
  • Avoid introduction of avian influenza viruses to poultry through fomites (clothing, boots, vehicles, etc.) and do not feed wild bird scraps to poultry.
  • Water bird scraps should not be fed to domestic animals (cats, dogs, or poultry).
  • Any waste from hunted birds, including their feathers, should be treated as potentially contaminated and safely disposed of.


  • Farmers and poultry producers should step up their biosecurity measures in order to prevent potential virus introduction from wild birds or their faeces.
  • It is important to keep poultry and other animals away from wild birds and their sub-products or droppings through screens, fencing or nets.
  • Commercial poultry operations and backyard poultry owners should avoid the introduction of pathogens through contaminated clothes, footwear, vehicles or equipment used in waterfowl hunting.


  • Report sick or dead birds – both wild birds and poultry - to local authorities (national park authorities, veterinary services, public health officials, community leaders, community health workers etc.). Samples collected from these birds or environmental samples should be tested for avian influenza viruses.
  • Wash hands properly and often. You should always do so after handling birds or other animals, when cooking or preparing animal products, and before eating.
  • Eat only well-cooked meat products, and refrain from collecting, consuming or selling animals found sick or dead.
  • Seek immediate advice from your physician if you show signs of fever after being in contact with poultry, farmed birds, wild birds or other animals.



For further information or support please write to Keith Sumption, FAO Chief Veterinary Officer at

Last updated on 21 February 2022

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