Avian influenza viruses occur naturally in wild birds, but can cause disease in domestic poultry. Movements of migratory birds can move viruses into new areas. Highly pathogenic strains can cause high mortality in domestic poultry. Avian influenza predominantly affects birds, but a small number of strains can also infect people.
In January 2016 an outbreak of Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) H5N1 occurred on a poultry farm near Dunfermline. Movement restriction zones were put in place around the farm and a humane cull of the almost 40,000 birds undertaken. The incident remained an isolated one, and following completion of statutory clean up and disinfection processes, the restrictions placed on the farm were lifted without further incident.
Rapid analysis of the the virus genome confirmed the initial assessment of the virus as a low pathogenic strain. Although some AI H5N1 variants are potentially zoonotic (transmissible to people), on further analysis this virus strain showed few of the genetic markers associated with human infection. Sequencing of the viral genome also helped identify the potential source of the infection using the technique of phylodynamics which compares viral sequences from other outbreaks around the world.
As a result of this outbreak, EPIC undertook a risk assessment to estimate the risk of incursion of AI into Scotland. Scientists from EPIC, working on a separate project, 'The Global Consortium for H5N8 and Related Influenza Viruses' highlighted the role of wild bird migration in the global spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in their publication in the journal Science.
Learn more about phylodynamics.
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