Poultry in a cage

Humanity Facing Worst Bird Flu Crisis

New study shows 250 million poultry have been culled around the world due to outbreak


Vienna, 19 October 2023 – A new study from the University of Hong Kong has shown that over 250 million poultry worldwide have had to be culled due to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) since the disease’s resurgence in 2020-2021.

This subtype of the H5N1 variant has become increasingly infectious to wild birds, and over this period of 2020-2021, 100,000 wild birds of 400 different species have died. Avian influenza also infected and killed domestic animals such as cats and dogs as well as prompted mass cullings in Finland and South Africa over the past few months.

The studies data also showed that the epicentre of the outbreaks has shifted from Asia, where the virus has historically started, to Europe as well as Africa, with more extreme outbreaks predicted this coming November.

 According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, by the end of 2022, sixty-seven countries across five continents had reported HPAI outbreaks.

Co-author of the paper, Dr Vijaykrishna Dhanasekaran, explains the worrying trend of how it can spread and especially its contagious nature to humans. “There is a perpetual threat of the virus jumping to humans. This is mainly due to the virus’s ability to evolve rapidly. It can acquire mutations that help it better attach to receptors on human cells, or it can acquire the ability to transmit via aerosols.”

FOUR PAWS, the global animal welfare organisation, said that the report highlighted “extremely worrying” trends.

"This report is extremely worrying and should not be taken lightly. HPAI is a looming pandemic for which the world clearly isn’t ready. This reinforces the need for a coordinated global health response. The World Health Organisation Member States are currently negotiating the “Pandemic Treaty” and the need to get this over the line in 2024 is essential.

Nina Jamal, FOUR PAWS' Head of Pandemics

“We also need a drastic reduction of the intensive animal farming sector, which contributes significantly to the spread and mutation of pathogens, increasing the risk of dangerous mutations that can eventually become transmissible among humans. What we must see globally is policy initiatives that are aligned with the One Health approach. Anything less could potentially lead to a worse public health crisis than the one caused by COVID-19.”

This year there have also been reports highlighting the avian flu outbreak in the United States has resulted in approximately 40 million animal losses and economic costs from US$2.5 to US$3 billion. The report also highlights these significant economic losses are not only in the private sector but in the public sector as well.


Study –The episodic resurgence of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5 virus: https://rb.gy/176g1

“H5N1, classified as a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus because of its high death toll in poultry, first infected birds in China in 1996. Outbreaks are usually seasonal, synchronizing with bird migration in Northern Hemisphere autumn. But since November 2021, they have become persistent. In 2022, the virus killed millions of birds across five continents and seeded outbreaks among farmed mink and various marine mammals.”

Pandemic prevention, preparedness and response accord: 
The goals are to:

  • ensure sustained and long-term political commitment
  • define clear processes and tasks
  • ensure long-term public- and private-sector support at all levels
  • promote an ‘all-of-government’ and ‘all-of-society’ approach, integrating health matters across all relevant policy areas (e.g. research, innovation, financing, transport)
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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org

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