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Spain and bird flu: News archive on bird flu in Spain. See also Birds in Spain

First case of bird flu in Spain.

07/07/2006 The inevitable has finally happened. Spain has come the 8th country in the EU to be infected with bird flu. A greater crested grebe (somormujo lavanco - Podiceps cristatus) found dead in the Basque wetland of Salburúa, just outside Victoria, in Álava has tested positive the most virulent form H5N1. A protection area of 3 km has been set up. (Here El Pais) . See also Distribution map of greater crested grebe in Spain + BBC report

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Spanish H5N1 grebe unlikely to be from Africa

07-07-2006 From Birdlife here

Spain confirmed its first case of the highly pathogenic form of avian influenza H5N1 today. A dead Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus found at Salburua Lake near the city of Vitoria in the Basque country of northern Spain tested positive for the deadly virus.

"There are some puzzling questions aspects to this case, and we hope that ornithologists will be allowed to examine the corpse for clues," said Dr Richard Thomas of BirdLife International. "Too often, invaluable information as to the source of the virus in wild birds has been wasted because appropriate experts have not been called in." For example, correct identification of the species involved is vital; earlier this year, a dead Whooper Swan in the UK was incorrectly identified as a resident species (a Mute Swan). If it is a Great Crested Grebe, then determining the subspecies involved is essential: birds from sub-Saharan Africa are subtly different from those found in Europe, and have never been recorded north of the Sahara. Even a North African origin is highly unlikely: only a handful of Great Crested Grebes nest there. "The one thing that we can be sure of is that this grebe is very, very unlikely to be a migrant from sub-Saharan Africa." -Dr Richard Thomas , BirdLife International

Another vital clue is the age of the affected bird: if it was hatched in 2006, it indicates a local source of infection. Young grebes will only just have fledged and Great Crested Grebes are not migrating in early July. Indeed, birds in northern Spain are regarded as sedentary. However, some reports indicate the corpse was found six weeks ago: if true, then the bird must have been died sometime in May. "Perhaps the most likely explanation is that it was one of the scattering of wild birds killed by H5N1 this spring in Europe-possibly a bird that wintered in an affected part of the Mediterranean," Thomas added.

In February, a lorry load of 21 tonnes of illegally imported Chinese poultry meat was confiscated in Benidorm making it only a matter of time before H5N1 was reported in Spain unless the imports were prevented. "Perhaps H5N1 arrived in Spain the same way it got into Africa: in imported chicken products," said Thomas. "But even if it was smuggled in, it's difficult to see how it could have ended up in a grebe: it would be useful to know the circumstances under which the bird was discovered."

Bird flu and migratory patterns in Spain

As of 24th Feb 2006 there are still no cases of bird flu in Spain .

24/02/06. SEO/BirdLife sees the illegal importing of fowl as the most probable source of spread of bird flu. ( . It sees migratory birds playing a minor role. Migration patterns are complex and just about any potential journey is possible but according to SEO a detailed study of the outbreaks of the H5N1 viruses, both in wild and domestic birds does not coincide with expected areas of contamination.

Millions of migratory birds which winter in Africa only use Spain as a "stage post" in their journey to Northern and Central Europe , though many do stay and breed. Over the approximately 350 species which regularly breed in Spain , around 100 spend the winter in Africa , but it is important to remember that Spain is a wintering habitat for many more species, including many ducks and geese and so migration routes are constantly overlapping in space and time. The bulk of migration occurs March to May.

A further hundred odd species will turn up irregularly or accidentally every year in small numbers. This is the case of swans (which have been dying in numbers in Germany ). Outside parks and gardens as an ornamental bird, swans are rare visitors to Spain associated with polar cold spells in Europe (such as the one this week).

According to Alejandro Sánchez, Executive Director of SEO /BirdLife, "After detecting outbreaks of bird flu in parts of Nigeria, Spain is now in a risk migratory path, as several species of birds now wintering in Nigeria will spend the spring here in Spain. However, bird flu has yet to be detected in the Spanish birds which reach Nigeria . The wild species in which bird flu has been detected, particularly ducks and geese, do not usually fly further south than Senegal and the inland delta of the Niger in Mali ".

"Pointing the finger at Garganey (Cerceta Carretona) and widgeon (Ánade Silbón) as possible vectors of the virus between Nigeria and Europe is highly improbable given the low number of individuals involved. It is known that there have been illegal imports of chickens in Nigeria from China , the original source of birdflu", A risk however does exist. More here from SEO

Alert on possible mass release of exotic cage birds due to bird flu panic

23/02/06. SEO/BirdLife is concerned about the mass release of exotic cage birds (parrots, parakeets, etc) due to the panic over bird flu resulting from the lack of real information available (and because people always panic). SEO notes the very low risk of contamination of pet birds. As is well known, exotic birds are a potential threat to autochthonous species. The Grupo de Aves Exóticas (GAE) of SEO/BirdLife notes that 317 exotic species have been introdced into Spain and 14 are considered established breeders. More here from SEO

25 October UPDATE Spanish government to declare 18 wetlands areas at risk of bird flu 18 wetlands in Spain (including Doñana Delta del Ebro, Delta del Llobregat and Parque Nacional Bahía de Cadiz) are to classified as areas at risk of bird flu due to the concentration of wild and migratory birds. In practice this means that farm birds cannot be raised in  the open within a radius of 10 kilometres to prevent them coming into contact with the virus.
Main wetlands at risk. Source: El Pais.

16 October UPDATE. Experts from the European Commissions in September stressed the need to increase surveillance on 15 waterbird species and to consider large concentrations of migratory birds as "areas of risk". El Pais today (http://www.elpais.es/articulo/elpporsoc/20051016elpepisoc_4/Tes) looks at the key case of Doñana, with annual censuses of 300,000 to 500,000 birds from the red list drawn up by Brussels (two geese , nine ducks, two gulls, lapwings and ruffs). Despite these huge numbers, experts agree that the chance of virulent bird flu developing in Doñana are very low.

The migratory route of the birds wintering in Doñana comes from Scandinavia , the Baltic and North Central Europe, far from the outbreak zones (but not that far from Romania , watch this space). But there are always exceptions, a few ringed individuals make it every year from Siberia or Kazakhstan , where H5N1, the most virulent variant is present. It is extremely unlikely that a sick bird would be able to fly such a distance.

Birdlife international released a statement on 15 October which concludes:


The situation is evolving rapidly from day to day, and our position on the disease and proposed control measures will continue to evolve as new data emerge. The points below are based on the best information available on 14 October 2005:

  1. The most recent outbreaks suggest that migratory birds may have transmitted the disease between countries or regions. Although this link has not been proven we cannot ignore the possibility. Movements of domestic poultry, another possible transmission route, have been largely implicated in the spread of the disease in SE Asia .
  2. There have been no recorded instances of transmission of the disease between infected wild birds and humans. The H5N1 virus strain is not currently contagious between humans and most human cases to date have been associated with close contact with infected domestic poultry. The risk of a human contracting the disease from a wild bird is remote, unless there was excessive close contact with infected birds and their excreta.
  3. Culls of wild birds are highly unlikely to stop the spread of the disease and are extremely difficult to implement. This view is shared by the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the UK Government. Indeed, culls have the potential to make the situation worse by dispersing infected individuals and stressing healthy birds, making them more prone to disease. Moreover, it would divert resources away from important disease control measures.
  4. The most efficient control techniques involve improved biosecurity, primarily of the poultry industry, to reduce the likelihood of contact between domestic stock and wild birds or infected water sources. This needs to be coupled with swift and complete culls of infected poultry flocks in the event of an outbreak. Further measures that should be considered include stricter controls on wild bird markets, and movements of domestic poultry. Such measures should be introduced worldwide. Countries currently free of the disease should consider a ban on imports of domestic poultry and wild birds for the pet trade from affected regions. Preventing public access to infected sites is also clearly a sensible precaution.
  5. It is important that discussions of the issues relating to avian influenza should differentiate between the real problems caused by the spread of the disease within bird populations, especially within the poultry industry, and the theoretical risks of a human pandemic, which might not happen.
  6. We fully recognise the potential for a human pandemic should the current viral strain increase its transmissibility through mutation or reassortment, thus facilitating human to human transfer of the disease, and in the absence of swift measures to safeguard public health. We also recognise the impact the current strain is having on local economies forced into culls of domestic flocks, and the potential for greater financial impact on the poultry industry.

From here:

15 September 2005

There appears to be little risk of wild birds migrating to Spain infecting farm birds with Asian bird flu. The vast majority of species here migrate north-south from areas unaffected rather than east-west. There are however a few species in very small numbers which do arrive. Despite the extremely low risk, SEO/BirdLife have issued a number of conclusions.

BirdLife notes:


Avian influenza can be divided into two classes, according to their pathogenicity (disease-causing ability) to domestic poultry. [a] Low pathogenic strains circulate in wild birds, especially waterbirds, usually at low levels. However, strains of the H5 and H7 subtypes can occasionally become highly pathogenic following a specific mutation. These highly pathogenic viruses can cause great mortality in domestic poultry flocks but are very rare in wild birds.

Poultry flu, H5N1, is highly pathogenic. H5N1 has been passed from poultry to wild birds on several occasions, and as the disease spreads, these instances are likely to become more frequent.

Transmission is promoted in domestic flocks due to the density of birds and the consequent close contact with faecal and other secretions. Husbandry methods like those in SE Asia , where domestic flocks are often allowed to mix freely with wild birds, especially waterfowl, make the transmission to migratory waterbirds easier.

The H5N1 virus is spreading, with recent outbreaks in China , Kazakhstan , Mongolia and several regions of Russia , on top of the spread through SE Asia since the end of 2003. It is not yet clear how the disease is spreading: movement of domestic birds is likely to have a significant role, and migrating waterbirds may also be involved. Evidence suggests the outbreak in China had its origins in domestic birds. However, there is a recent instance, in Kovsgol Province , Mongolia , where poultry flu has been detected in wild migratory birds that had no apparent contact with domestic poultry. There, as in other outbreaks in wild birds, the disease was quickly self-limiting. Around 100 out of 6,500 waterfowl at the lake died, and tests on 139 live birds at this and a nearby site all proved negative for the virus. From here

And further down:


There have been no recorded instances of transmission of the disease between infected wild birds and humans. The H5N1 virus strain is not currently contagious between humans and most human cases to date have been associated with close contact with infected domestic poultry. The risk of a human contracting the disease from a wild bird is remote, unless there was excessive close contact with infected birds and their excreta.

Taking this into account SEO/BirdLife has stressed these points in relation to Spain (my summary):

  1. Strict sanitary controls are needed on the importation of wild birds from the affected regions of Asia . The best course may well be to suspend imports.
  2. As a cautionary measure, contact between farm birds and migratory waterbirds should be avoided as far as possible contact.
  3. Some migratory waterbirds which winter in Spain may arrive from remote regions of the Siberian Tundra, such as Brent Goose (Barnacla Carinegra) or Bean Goose (Ánsar Campestre), both of which is very small numbers. The latter has virtually disappeared as a migratory bird – possibly because of climate change as its breeding populations are in good condition. Numbers can however increase in a severe winter. Small numbers of other birds also arrive from northern Siberia their way to Africa such as Curlew Sandpiper (Correlimos Zarapitín). All of these birds live in generally remote and depopulated areas and so the possibility infection is very low in Iberia . Remember that migration is an extremely energy costly activity for birds and Spain lies at the end of a long journey. Only healthy birds have a chance of making the journey..
  4. Through the wide network of ringers in Spain , it would not be difficult to take the samples needed to analyse migratory bird species which may have come from Siberia . Adapted from here (SEO in Spanish)

So, really not much to worry about. But these notes are in relation to direct infection Siberia to Spain . A major current concern of FAO is that the disease could enter from Russia into the Balkans and from there infect the rest of Europe .


Europe races to shore up bird flu defences (Reuters)

Europe is racing to bolster its defences against bird flu, fearing it could be winging its way to the continent with migrating wildfowl via countries too poor to check its spread.

Whilst authorities stress the risk is low, Dutch farmers have been ordered to keep poultry locked up inside, British doctors have been briefed on a nightmare scenario of a human pandemic and France is stockpiling drugs to protect its population. The H5N1 strain of avian influenza, which surfaced in Hong Kong eight years ago, has killed more than 60 people in Asia , led to the destruction of millions of birds, and has now started to spread west. Here