This collaboration monitors outbreaks of both low and novel high-pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI and HPAI) in wild birds in Europe and Central Asia.


Wild waterbirds are the natural reservoir for low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) viruses. LPAI viruses of the subtypes H5 and H7 can evolve into highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses once in domestic birds. This wild-domestic bird interface is key in the evolution of LPAI and HPAI viruses. In the past 20 years, HPAI viruses have increasingly been detected in Europe raising questions about the mechanism of the novel emergence of these HPAI H5 viruses, source, and route of introduction into Europe.

Georgia is situated in a key region where three major wild migratory flyways overlap. Thousands of migratory waterbirds use Georgia as a migratory stopover, thus increasing the interaction between different species of wild birds. Migratory birds can become transmission vectors for avian influenza viruses to other local wild bird populations, that can amplify the circulation of novel viruses.

In mid-October 2020, novel HPAI H5N8 virus were detected in Eurasian wild birds followed by detections in poultry in the Netherlands. These emerging events reminds us that despite SARS-Cov2 (the virus causing COVID-19), bird flu is still a serious threat to both poultry health and to food security in many countries and highlights the need for continuous and effective surveillance of wild bird populations worldwide.


Professor Nicola Lewis is a world leading expert on influenza A viruses working within RVC. She is the Deputy Director of the OIE/FAO international reference laboratory at APHA. She provides consultancy to a range of international organisations, including the European Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the European Food Safety Authority, and the World Health Organisation.

Lewis’ group collaborates with other institutions around the world to survey wild bird populations within Georgia to investigate the role of wild bird ecology and migration in the maintenance of avian influenza viruses. The output will capture drivers of evolution of H5 HPAI viruses that will help in understanding population dynamics, phylogeny, and the potential for virus persistence in this region. These analyses will also consider practical approaches to designing a risk-based scheme in wild birds.

Genetic analyses will allow for zoonotic risk assessment including spill-over infections to mammals and human populations at risk.


Poultry production in Europe relies on the guarantee of healthy and resilient flocks. However, in recent years domestic birds have been increasingly threatened by outbreaks of H5 HPAI viruses. By focussing on the role of migratory birds in the transmission and amplification of these viruses will allow to increase data resolution which, together with pre-existing data sets, will allow predictions and models that will support targeted recommendations for future surveillance and vaccination.

Collected virus genetic data allow for evolutionary analyses in a global context and further investigations into the origin of variant strains, but also feed into understanding virus evolution and its molecular drivers.

This research output has long-term implications to not only increase the capacity to prevent and control diseases in wild birds, to reduce the impact on animal health and poultry sector but also to prevent and control their impact in the human population.


Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Weybridge, UK

Linnaeus University, Sweden

Center of Wildlife Disease Ecology, Institute of Ecology, Ilia State University, Georgia





Emergence and spread of novel H5N8, H5N5 and H5N1 clade highly pathogenic avian influenza in 2020

Emerging Microbes & Infections


Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Viruses at the Wild-Domestic Bird Interface in Europe: Future Directions for Research and Surveillance



Regional Transmission and Reassortment of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) Viruses in Bulgarian Poultry 2017/2018



Detection of H3N8 influenza A virus in multiple mammalian-adapted mutations in a rescued Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) pup

Virus Evolution


Outbreak Severity of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N8) Viruses Is Inversely Correlated to Polymerase Complex Activity and Interferon Induction

Journal of Virology


News / In the media

BBC “The Jump” with Chris van Tulleken

BBC “The Compass: It’s a Bird’s World”

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