Many Great White Pelicans died in the recent Avian Influenza outbreak in Senegal © Sergey Dereliev, www.dereliev-photography.com
Rome, 18 February 2022 - FAO 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 22.214.171.124b, 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 126.96.36.199b 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):
PART 1: https://youtu.be/damySnrQuYY
PART 2: https://youtu.be/ClJzwsq4E28
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.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AFFECTED COUNTRIES AND THOSE AT RISK
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.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO NATIONAL AUTHORITIES
RECOMMENDATIONS TO HUNTERS AND HUNTER-GATHERERS
RECOMMENDATIONS TO POULTRY PRODUCERS
For further information or support please write to Keith Sumption, FAO Chief Veterinary Officer at CVO@fao.org.
Last updated on 21 February 2022