Friday 28 April 2023

New avian influenza requires urgent coordinated response

 Image: © Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

A new study from the University of Maryland has tracked the arrival and spread of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1). This virus is killing wild birds, impacting poultry and pushing up egg prices.


The researchers found that the deadly impact on wild birds and a shift from seasonal to year-round infections signal dangerous changes in avian influenza in the U.S. The researchers are seeking to determine how this outbreak is different from previous ones.


The research suggests that H5N1 will likely become endemic, potentially posing risks to food security and the economy.


H5N1 spread from Eurasia to the U.S. where it was first documented in late 2021. By October 2022, the disease had resulted in 31 reported wild bird mass mortalities, accounting for an estimated 33,504 wild bird detections in the U.S. and Canada. In addition, more than 58 million domestic poultry were infected or had to be culled to limit the spread of infection in the U.S. and 7 million in Canada.



This is based on an analysis of five different data sources that provide information on the incidence of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds and poultry focusing on the USA and Canada, as well as information obtained from a global database from 2014 through early 2023.


Unlike the previous ‘bird flu’ virus H5N8, this disease is heavily impacting wild birds. The virus is impacting raptors, sea birds and colonial nesting birds. The data also reveals a shift from a seasonal to a year-round disease.


The research finds there is an urgent need for unprecedented coordination at a national and regional-scale to manage the spread of a disease reaching across jurisdictions and disciplines. This means federal agencies, state agencies, the agriculture sector and wildlife management, need to formulate a coordinated response.



Among the recommendation is a management approach based on a method called Structured Decision-Making, which follows a specific process of identifying and bringing together relevant individuals with an interest, expertise or stake in an issue, distinguishing the unknown from the known factors and establishing measurable goals and actions with quantifiable results.


The associated research paper outlines examples of potential triggers for action, identifying the relevant decision-makers required to coordinate a response and some of the challenges that may come up. See:


Johanna A Harvey, Jennifer M. Mullinax, Michael C. Runge, Diann J. Prosser. The Changing Dynamics of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1: Next Steps for Management & Science in North America. Conservation Biology, 2023 DOI: 10.32942/X26K57


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

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