Will Bird Flu Spread to Iceland?

Vala Hafstað

Bird flu, or avian influenza, is spreading fast in Europe and, as a result, there is a phase one alert in Iceland - the lowest phase of pandemic alert, Morgunblaðið reports.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) monitors the pandemic and assesses its risk for Iceland.

“We’re at alert phase one, because the migratory birds have not yet arrived,” states Brigitte Brugger, veterinary officer for poultry diseases at MAST. She expects the alert phase to be raised once the migratory birds start arriving.

Most bird flu cases in Europe in recent months are caused by a virus called H5N8, which has been found in wild and domestic birds alike. The virus spreads mainly with wild birds, according to MAST.

Bird flu is reported in some parts of the world every year. This year, however, what causes concern in Iceland is that cases of it have been reported  in habitats of Icelandic migratory birds. Brigitte states that this year’s bird flu is of a new variant of the H5N8 virus, very contagious among poultry.

This variant of the virus has not yet caused infections among humans and the risk of transmission to the general public remains very low. There are no indications that people can become infected from the consumption of the eggs or meat of infected birds, according to Morgunblaðið.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a warning in September, saying that based on prior experience, the bird flu can be expected to spread with wild birds from Kazakhstan to northern and central Europe this winter. Hundreds of cases of bird flu have been reported in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, according to EFSA

“Our migratory birds – ducks and geese – come from the British Isles, to a large extent,” Brigitte states, “and birds fly here via the Netherlands and northern Germany.”

MAST reminds bird owners to do what they can to protect their birds from infections from wild birds, for example, by keeping feed and water for their birds inaccessible to wild birds.

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