From Iceland — Bird Flu Confirmed In Iceland: What You Should Know (Your Cat Is Safe)

Bird Flu Confirmed In Iceland: What You Should Know (Your Cat Is Safe)

Published April 19, 2022

Alice Poggio
Photo by
Thegreenj/Wikimedia Commons

Bird flu has been confirmed in wild birds in Iceland. The announcement comes from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Administration (MAST). Bird flu has been diagnosed in a white-fronted goose by Hörnafjörður, in a wild goose on Strandakirkja, by Suðurstrandarvegur, and in a raven on Skeiðar in Árnessýsla. 

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Chief Veterinarian Sigurborg Daðadóttir outlines her worries to RÚV: “Infection must be quite widespread since it has been found in three wild birds of different species all over the country”.

An announcement from MAST states that on the farm where the raven was found, some chickens presented symptoms and were killed. Samples from the chickens were collected. Although the virus found in the wild birds has been confirmed to be of the H5 type, it is not yet known what its pathogenicity is, and the results from foreign laboratories are pending. 

Sigurborg’s concern is that the results might indicate that it is the H5N1 variant. “This is a harmful variety that is now prevalent in Europe, we are afraid that this is the type that is here and it is contagious”. If this were to be the case, it would be the first time it has been diagnosed in chickens here. 

Dead gannets spotted on webcam

Webcams in Eldey, home to one of the largest gannet settlements in the world, show scattered dead gannets, and the number seems to increase as days pass.

Sigurður Harðarson, an electronics engineer, set up webcams on Eldey fourteen years ago and has been monitoring the situation. Vísir reports:

Screenshot from webcam footage on Eldey taken on the 31st of March

“I noticed that yesterday there were a lot of dead birds in front of the camera and the number of birds has decreased a lot,” he said.

Screenshot from webcam footage on Eldey taken on the 15th of April

Sigurður believes this must be the bird flu. In his own words: “It comes to my mind because I’ve never seen this before. On the 11th of April, I saw the first dead bird in front of the camera and they have only increased in number,” he says. In order to confirm his suspicions, a bird must be taken for sampling.

Is it still safe to eat eggs and poultry?

MAST’s response plan for the prevention of infectious diseases in birds was activated on the 16th of April. All poultry owners have been told to protect their birds from infection by wild birds as best they can, by keeping them under a roof and inside fences.

The H5N1 variant has not been reported to be contagious to humans, so there is no risk for the infection to be transmitted to humans through the consumption of eggs or poultry, as stated by MAST. Their announcement however encourages caution: “The risk of infection from birds to humans is therefore small, but it is never possible to rule out infection and people must always take care to prevent infection.” 

Are our cats at risk?

If you are a cat owner, you shouldn’t yet worry that your pet will be infected, RÚV reports.

Sigurborg reassures that there are no known examples of cats being infected with this type of bird flu, but she urges everyone to be extra cautious “because viruses are mutating and it can always happen. So we do not rule out anything, but it is very unlikely”.

Additionally, sparrows, cats’ preferred prey, are unlikely to catch the flu. Nonetheless, if a cat enters the home with a dead bird, follow infection protocol. Never touch the bird with your bare hands, use disposable gloves, and pick up the bird with a plastic bag. Pull the bag over the bird and close it.

They public is invited to report any deaths of wild birds that cannot be otherwise explained. 

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