Greifswald — Bird flu is spreading rapidly across northern Europe, probably carried by wildfowl that do not show any symptoms, a German expert said on Wednesday.
“We are currently seeing an extremely dynamic process with a strong tendency to spread,” said Thomas Mettenleiter, president of the official Friedrich Loeffler Institute tasked with animal health issues.
The H5N8 infection, which is not dangerous to humans, was jumping rapidly from wild to domestic fowl in sheds, Mettenleiter said.
The virus has been detected in 10 German states since it was first registered in the country on November 8. Cases have been reported in several other European countries.
H5N8 was first found on the Russian-Mongolian border in June when birds were tested as part of a wildfowl monitoring programme. The pathogen has since been found in Iran and Israel.
The proportion of wildfowl testing positive for the pathogen is very high compared to the rates found for the H5N1 avian flu strain of 10 years ago, according to the German institute.
The disease could be spread by predators such as foxes or weasels ripping dead wildfowl open and spreading the contents of their innards, it said.
There is as yet no evidence that mammals, including domestic cats and dogs, could become infected. Nevertheless, the authorities in some states have marked off areas where domestic animals should not be allowed to roam.
The aim is primarily to prevent the spread of the pathogen by infected dung sticking to pets’ paws or fur.