Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5Nx in Poland in 2020/2021: a Descriptive Epidemiological Study of a Large-scale Epidemic

Introduction: Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks caused by the Gs/Gd lineage of H5Nx viruses occur in Poland with increased frequency. The article provides an update on the HPAI situation in the 2020/2021 season and studies the possible factors that caused the exceptionally fast spread of the virus.

Material and methods: Samples from poultry and wild birds delivered for HPAI diagnosis were tested by real-time RT-PCR and a representative number of detected viruses were submitted for partial or full-genome characterisation. Information yielded by veterinary inspection was used for descriptive analysis of the epidemiological situation.

Results: The scale of the epidemic in the 2020/2021 season was unprecedented in terms of duration (November 2020-August 2021), number of outbreaks in poultry (n = 357), wild bird events (n = 92) and total number of affected domestic birds (approximately ~14 million). The major drivers of the virus spread were the harsh winter conditions in February 2020 followed by the introduction of the virus to high-density poultry areas in March 2021. All tested viruses belonged to H5 clade with significant intra-clade diversity and in some cases clearly distinguished clusters.

Conclusion: The HPAI epidemic in 2020/2021 in Poland struck with unprecedented force. The conventional control measures may have limited effectiveness to break the transmission chain in areas with high concentrations of poultry.