Big blackbird death due to exotic Usutu virus in several German cities

Big blackbird death due to exotic Usutu virus in several German cities

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Usutu virus kills more and more blackbirds in Germany

The exotic Usutu virus, which was first detected in Germany in 2011, repeatedly causes regional bird deaths. Now Hamburg is affected for the first time. Blackbirds fall victim to the pathogen. People can also become infected - but this only happens in very rare cases.

Hamburg is also affected for the first time this year

In 2011, the tropical Usutu virus, which is transmitted to birds by mosquitoes, especially in late summer, was first detected in Germany. In the following years, the pathogen repeatedly caused regional bird death. Hamburg is affected for the first time this year. The Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) and the Nature Conservation Association (NABU) ask the population to report sick or dead animals at “” and to send them in for examination if possible.

Warm summer favored the spread of the exotic virus

"We have received 55 telephone reports of suspected Usutu cases in Hamburg since the beginning of August," explained Marco Sommerfeld, speaker for bird protection at NABU Hamburg in a joint press release.

"I assume that the warm summer has promoted the spread of the originally exotic virus."

According to the experts, the Usutu virus has been spreading across Germany since 2011.

In the first few years, only heat-favored regions along the Rhine Valley and the Lower Main were affected, since 2016 a spread across North Rhine-Westphalia to the north and a separate outbreak in the Leipzig and Berlin area have been identified.

The regions around Nuremberg and between Bremen and Hamburg are apparently affected for the first time this year.

Significantly more cases reported

"The cases reported so far in 2018 far exceed the numbers from previous years, which speaks for a particularly strong occurrence and for a spreading spread of the virus," said Lars Lachmann, bird expert from the NABU federal association.

Ornithologists and tropical medicine experts have been able to determine since 2011 that a particularly large number of birds die when the virus first occurs in a region, as is currently the case around Hamburg. In the following years, the number of deaths then generally drops to a lower level.

In order to be able to document the actual spread of the virus, it is important to be able to confirm as many suspected cases as possible in the laboratory. Corresponding examinations are carried out by the BNITM and some veterinary examination offices.

According to the information, more than 200 dead birds from all over Germany have already been sent to the BNITM this year, of which 132 have so far been examined. The BNITM has detected the Usutu virus in 33 percent of the animals already examined.

"The highest activity can be observed in Hamburg this year," confirmed Dr. Renke Lühken from the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine. "Here we were able to detect the virus in 12 birds sent in."

Pathogen can cause mass bird death

As the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI) (Federal Research Institute for Animal Health) explains on its website, the Usutu virus, which originated in Africa, was first diagnosed in Europe at the beginning of the millennium.

The main hosts for the pathogen are wild birds, which usually do not fall ill. However, very susceptible bird species are also known, for example black birds, which get infected very easily.

Infected birds often show apathies and central nervous system disorders such as wobbling or head turning. There can be massive bird deaths.

According to the experts, infections mainly occur during the mosquito season from May to September.

According to BNITM, infected birds no longer flee and usually die within a few days. It is almost always blackbirds that are diagnosed with this disease, which is why the Usutu epidemic is also known as "blackbird death".

However, other bird species are also affected by the pathogen and can die from it.

Infection cannot be treated

"Unfortunately, Usutu infections cannot be prevented or treated," said Lachmann.

"The only chance left is to use it to document the effects of a new bird disease for wild bird species in Germany and to assess their consequences," said the bird expert.

"The aim is to be able to compare and assess new types of hazard for bird species with other threats such as climate change and habitat loss."

Dead birds should only be gripped with protective gloves or an inverted plastic bag.

There is also a risk of infection for people.

"Humans can be infected by the Usutu virus, but - like most mosquito-borne viruses - serious illnesses occur very rarely," said Dr. Raise hatches. (ad)

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