After first being reported last November in Japan and South Korea, over the past two months we've seen the new HPAI H5N6 virus (reassorted from last year's H5N8 epizootic virus) turn up in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and the UK (see UK: DEFRA Updates Avian Flu Risk Assessment - Jan 22nd).
Elsewhere in Europe and the Middle East this winter, we've only seen reports of H5N8 and (and, primarily in Egypt) H5N1.The H5N6 virus, while spreading via wild and migratory birds, has been doing so far less aggressively than did H5N8 last year. More like H5N8's first arrival in 2014-15.
But today, we've a confirmation from the OIE of H5N6 showing up for the first time among wild ducks in Northern Iran; making an impressive jump of over 2,000 miles from where it has most recently been reported in Europe.
Source of the outbreak(s) or origin of infection
Contact with wild species
Epidemiological comments On January 31st unexpected mortality was reported in Bojagh, Kiashar area, in the north of Iran, where migratory birds spend their wintering season. On February 4th, the Iran veterinary national reference laboratory confirmed HPAI virus H5N6 in the samples collected from the sick and dead birds. Iran Veterinary Organization (IVO) will continue to monitor the situation in the area closely and to advice poultry flock owners, including owners of backyard poultry, to remain vigilant to the threat of avian influenza and implement strategic, ongoing biosecurity measures – in particular feeding birds indoors or under cover, and discouraging wild birds from the poultry premises.
For Iran - which has been hard hit this past year by bird flu (see Iranian MOA Reports 21 Million Birds Lost To H5N8) - this is unwelcome news, as it will be for other countries in the Middle East who continue to deal with avian flu's impact on their poultry sector.
Like H5N8 before it, H5N6 appears to be well adapted for carriage by migratory birds, and we'll have to keep an eye out for further global expansion.