Eurasian H5 bird flu found in US for first time since 2016

Other variants of the bird flu have been detected in the US in recent years.

 A sign warns about the avian influenza in an area of Randers, Denmark November 17, 2020 (photo credit: VIA REUTERS)
A sign warns about the avian influenza in an area of Randers, Denmark November 17, 2020
(photo credit: VIA REUTERS)

A wild bird in South Carolina was found to be infected with highly pathogenic Eurasian H5 avian influenza, the first case of this variant of bird flu found in the US since 2016, the United States Department of Agriculture announced on Friday.

The bird, a wild American wigeon, was found in Colleton County, South Carolina. Other variants of the bird flu have been detected in the US in recent years.

The USDA added that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still considers the risk to the general public from the variant to be low. No human infections from the variant have occurred in the US.

The USDA advised people to minimize direct contact with wild birds and advised bird owners to practice good biosecurity and keep their birds isolated from wild birds.

A large number of bird flu outbreaks have been reported throughout Europe, Africa and Asia in recent weeks, mostly due to the H5N1 subtype, which comes from the H5 lineage, according to the World Organization for Animal Health.

 Workers in protective gear seen in Moshav Givat Yoav, in northern Israel, December 29, 2021, following an outbreak of avian influenza (credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90) Workers in protective gear seen in Moshav Givat Yoav, in northern Israel, December 29, 2021, following an outbreak of avian influenza (credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)

Over a million birds were found to be infected with the variant in Israel in recent months, although Israel's Agriculture Ministry declared on Friday that the outbreak is now under control.

The OIE has urged countries to increase surveillance for HPAI outbreaks, as the virus has been reported in over 40 countries since July.

The H5N1, H5N3, H5N4, H5N5, H5N6 and H5N8 subtypes of HPAI are circulating in bird and poultry populations across the globe, sparking concern at OIE which called this an “unprecedented genetic variability of subtypes... creating an epidemiologically challenging landscape.”

Earlier this month, OIE Director General Monique Eloit told Reuters that "this time the situation is more difficult and more risky because we see more variants emerge, which make them harder to follow."

"Eventually the risk is that it mutates or that it mixes with a human flu virus that can be transmitted between humans then suddenly it takes on a new dimension," she added.

Germany’s Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, the Friedrich Loeffler Institute, told the German Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) that Europe is experiencing its “strongest avian flu epidemic ever.”

The institute added that “there is no end in sight” as the virus spreads throughout the continent and around the world, with new cases reported on a daily basis.