Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds Statement: Update and Recommendations on Recent Avian Influenza Outbreaks

Bonn, 24 January 2022 - Throughout the past autumn and current winter in the northern hemisphere, multiple avian influenza outbreaks, caused predominantly by the H5N1 HPAI virus, plus other subtypes including H5N8, have occurred in the UK, The Netherlands, Israel, and India.

CMS Executive Secretary Amy Fraenkel said: “Through late 2021 and early 2022 there have been numerous outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1, with severe impacts on migratory birds. The CMS Secretariat responded by convening the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds together with the FAO. We are pleased to share its advice and key recommendations for countries affected or at risk, and look forward to continuing our collaborative work to minimize risks to humans, poultry and wild populations of migratory birds.”

The Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds has convened and produced recommendations and guidance for authorities and managers of countries affected or at risk.

  • Wild birds, including globally threatened species, are victims of HPAI viruses causing avian influenza. Affected sites also include areas of international relevance for conservation such as protected wetlands.
  • It is essential that authorities with responsibility for animal health apply the One Health approach for communicating and addressing avian influenza. That means recognising the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants, and the wider environment and acting with a coordinated and unified approach.
  • It is recommended that surveillance and biosecurity measures are reinforced to reduce spillover risk between poultry and wild birds. The Task Force reminds authorities of their international obligations to ensure their response to the pathogenic virus does not include the culling of wild birds, nor actions that would cause damage to natural ecosystems, especially wetlands.

Dr. Ruth Cromie, who coordinated the work of the Task Force and the production of the statement, said: "Avian influenza represents a One Health issue threatening health across the board. The highly pathogenic viruses are still relatively new in wild birds and this winter’s high levels of mortality remind us of their vulnerability and that working to promote healthy wildlife benefits us all."

H5N1 is currently the avian influenza lineage most found in Africa and Eurasia in both poultry and wild birds. The wide range of wild birds affected include wildfowl, waders, gulls, cranes, grebes, herons, pelicans, gamebirds, corvids and raptors (diurnal and nocturnal), in addition to sporadic cases in mammals such as red fox Vulpes vulpes, Eurasian otter Lutra lutra and harbour Phoca vitulina and grey seal Halichoerus grypus.

In terms of human health, the currently circulating H5N1 HPAI viruses do not seem to pose the same zoonotic risk as the ‘original’ Asian lineage H5N1 (clade 2.2 and their derivatives plus clade H5N6 viruses currently in China). In general, the risk can be considered low, recognising that some agencies now consider occupational exposure, e.g. those working on poultry culling operations, as low/moderate.

General recommendations concerning different categories of animals affected include:

Wild birds:

  • There is no benefit in attempting to control the virus in wild birds through culling or habitat destruction
  • All those with responsibilities for animal health are reminded of the advice of FAO and OIE, and international obligations under CMS, the Ramsar Convention and the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), to ensure that there is no consideration of killing of wild birds, spraying toxic products or negatively affecting wetland and other habitats as disease control measures


Captive birds:

  • There is no justification for any pre-emptive culling of zoological collections


About the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds:

The Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds is co-convened by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It works as a communication and coordination network that keeps under review the role of wild birds in the epidemiology of AI and the impact of the disease on wild birds, promoting a balanced opinion based on currently available evidence. It has been in existence since 2005. Task Force members include FAO, CMS, the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), BirdLife International, EcoHealth Alliance, International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC), Ramsar Convention, Royal Veterinary College, Wetlands International, and Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT).  Task Force observers include the United Nations Environment Programme, World Health Organisation and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).



Statement of the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds on H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in poultry and wild birds: Winter of 2021/2022 with focus on mass mortality of wild birds in UK and Israel


Last updated on 03 February 2022