H5N8 avian influenza outbreak in the Republic of Korea

The Republic of Korea has reported a number of outbreaks of H5N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) since 16 January. The virus has also killed a number of wild birds including Baikal teal (Anas formosa) and bean geese (Anser fabilis). Over 640,000 poultry have already been slaughtered, with many hundreds of thousands more set to be destroyed.

The Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds, co-convened by the United Nations Environment Programme/ Convention on Migratory Species (UNEP/CMS) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has produced an update in English, summarizing the current situation and guiding the response of agencies.

The Task Force warns that there is currently no evidence that wild birds are the source of this virus. It urges agencies to:

a. conduct thorough epidemiological evaluation to determine the true source of the virus and mechanisms of transmission among domestic and wild birds;
b. focus disease control actions on the affected farms with the aim of minimising risk of disease spread to other poultry farms and/or wildlife;
c. ensure that affected and nearby farms are biosecure to prevent wildlife-poultry contact; and
d. recognise that focusing attention on wild birds can misdirect critical resources away from effective disease control and result in negative conservation outcomes and loss of biodiversity.

The update lists further guidance, including the Ramsar Handbook on avian influenza and wetlands and the Ramsar Wetland Disease Manual, which the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) produced for the Ramsar Convention in 2012.

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