Press Release

FAO in Asia-Pacific calls for improvements to early warning systems as concerns grow over evolving avian influenza and potential threat to humans

10 December 2021

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Bangkok – Cases of avian influenza are rising globally, with 272 additional events of outbreaks in birds recorded worldwide by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in little more than a month.

The FAO data records the increase since 27 October 2021. Increased avian influenza activity has been seen in the Asia-Pacific region, but also in Africa and Europe during the past year and it is suspected that wild birds may play a role in spreading the virus globally.

In addition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), influenza A(H5N6) has caused 52 human infections in the Asia-Pacific region since 2014, half of which have occurred in 2021, and mostly in people with close contact with poultry prior to infection.

“Avian influenza viruses are constantly evolving, and we must be vigilant to detact new subtypes of the virus that could devastate poultry production systems in the region or infect humans, which can lead to a pandemic,” said FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) Regional Manager Kachen Wongsathapornchai.

“There is an urgent need to better share information on what strains of influenza circulate in Asia and ensure countries take the necessary steps to protect the public health and the livelihoods of their communities.” he added.

In response to this situation, FAO ECTAD has been consulting with more than 40 experts on avian influenza viruses to discuss what can be done to improve avian influenza surveillance and early warning systems in the Asia-Pacific region.

The ideal early warning system: better data drive smarter decisions

During the consultations, FAO and various experts emphasized the importance of information sharing to improve early warning, prevent the virus’ spread and minimize the global impacts of avian influenza. “Better data would have helped countries and the international community determine preparedness and response more quickly and confidently,” said Filip Claes, FAO ECTAD Regional Laboratory Coordinator.

In particular, FAO and experts encourage countries to:

  • Rapidly share surveillance results and sequence information with the international community and neighboring countries to improve early warning and better prepare for virus incursions. 
  • Conduct targeted surveillance to detect the disease risk in migratory birds and poultry value chains.
  • Enhance public trust in science and build strong multilateral collaboration in diverse areas, involving public and private sectors, research institutions, communities, and others.
  • Build integration between human health, animal health, and environmental sectors during surveillance activities through the One Health approach.

The way forward – a call for collective action

The current ongoing and evolving avian influenza situation is an opportunity to recognize and address the national and global efforts to tackle the virus. FAO and experts are calling for collective action to share relevant avian influenza information with the international and scientific communities, and create a true international early warning network that can benefit countries’ preparedness efforts.

FAO provides early warning information on zoonotic and animal disease outbreaks, such as H5Nx avian influenza. Member countries can share their disease information on the EMPRES-i platform, and avian influenza sequences with the OIE/FAO Network of Expertise on Animal Influenza (OFFLU).

For media inquiries please contact Allan Dow at allan.dow[a]fao.org and Rindu Putri at rindu.putri[a]fao.org

FAO in Asia-Pacific calls for improvements to early warning systems as concerns grow over evolving avian influenza and potential threat to humans

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