Expert: Avian flu situation in Estonia as critical as in Finland

Black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus).
Black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus). Source: Adrian Pingstone/Wikimedia Commons

It has been suggested that seabirds infected the animals on fur farms in the Kaustinen region of Finland, where bird flu is spreading fast. Experts say that Estonia also has a high prevalence of avian influenza, but because we have fewer fur farms than our northern neighbors, the spreading risk remains lower.

"Finland has detected highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu in 24 fur farms, all of which are in the Kaustinen region. Prior to the outbreak of avian influenza in fur-bearing birds, avian influenza-related mass mortality of black-headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) was detected in the same region.

Kart Jaarma, chief of the animal health and welfare department at the Finnish Food Authority, said that it is probable that the fur-bearing animals became infected through contact with avian influenza-infected wild birds.

Beginning in August, the Finnish government resolved to cull about 50,000 animals in fur farms in an effort to prevent the spread of bird flu.

Avian flu is not common in humans

Avian flu has not yet spread to humans. "Finland has gathered samples from people who have been exposed to contaminated birds or animals for testing of avian influenza; thus far, all samples have proved negative. As a result, no human cases of bird flu have been reported in Finland," Jaarma said.

He pointed out that the avian influenza situation in Estonia is as dire as it is in Finland for wild birds and waterfowl, but it is not comparable for mammals, particularly fur-bearing ones, as Estonia does not practice fur farming.

"Cases of avian flu virus transmission from mammal to mammal or human infection are extremely rare. According to a report by the European Food Safety Authority and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (EFSA and ECDC), this virus' transmission to people is uncommon and the risk of transmission to humans is considered low," Jaarma said.

At the same time, the virus is becoming more adaptable and the situation is being closely monitored, he added.

Loomus: Intensive farming is dangerous

While Finland is one of the world's largest producers of fox pelts, producing nearly a million a year, farms in Estonia have virtually ceased to exist.

Anu Tensing, a member of the board of the Estonian animal protection organization Loomus, told ERR that the situation in Finland plainly illustrates that intensive farming is a possible source of infections and a hazard to public health.

"Fur farms will be prohibited in Estonia beginning in 2026, although the fur industry is already virtually non-existent. It should be said, however, that viruses can spread in any intensive agricultural, including food production. Also, viruses do not care about national borders; if a virus infects a person in Finland, it can easily spread to us," Tensing said.

The first instance of avian influenza in Estonia this year was found in a dead black-headed gull in Tallinn in May. The last recorded occurrence of highly virulent avian influenza in a wild bird occurred in March of last year, when a swan near Haapsalu was identified as infected with it.


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Editor: Mari Peegel, Kristina Kersa

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