Bird flu back in Germany after three years – SWR knowledge


After Denmark, Holland and Great Britain, avian influenza has spread to northern and eastern Germany for the first time in three years. Migratory birds spread the virus on their flight from Siberia to West Africa. It is not dangerous to humans, but is usually fatal in animals.

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Poultry country Lower Saxony

There are around 170 million poultry animals in Germany. 105 million of them are held in Lower Saxony alone. The state is thus the number one poultry country. House sizes of up to 40,000 laying hens are not uncommon. If the bird flu virus spreads again, as it is now, it will have a particular impact here.

Particularly aggressive pathogen

Avian flu usually affects ducks and geese. But this year it can be seen that many different bird species are carrying the virus and are dying. The Lower Saxony CDU Agriculture Minister Barbara Otte-Kinast is closely monitoring the situation of the poultry prest, because thousands of birds have already died of avian influenza in Schleswig-Holstein.

(…) that birds of prey really died from this epidemic is very rare and that makes it clear that it is a very aggressive virus, so hope dies last, but I don’t think the cup will pass us by.

Barbara Otte-Kinast, CDU Agriculture Minister Lower Saxony

In Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, restricted areas and observation areas have been set up around the farms concerned.


imago images / penofoto

Wild birds as carriers

During the last bird flu epidemic in 2016/17, 1.2 million birds had to be killed. The economic damage at that time amounted to 16 million euros. The virus is transmitted from animal to animal through direct contact. Migratory birds, especially wild water birds, are often carriers. They do not get sick themselves, but they can spread the virus on their flight from Siberia to warmer regions.

Isolation of poultry animals

As soon as the bird flu breaks out on a farm, all animals must be killed because treatment of the sick animals is prohibited. For farmers this is a great economic damage. To protect against the virus, the districts and urban districts therefore order so-called stables.

This means that if the veterinary authorities have found infected wild birds such as geese or ducks in a region, the animals must only be kept indoors. Many poultry farmers take great care that free-range chickens do not come into contact with wild birds or their excrement.

Free range chickens (Photo: Imago, imago images / penofoto)

In particular, livestock and pets should be kept away from feeding and drinking places for wild birds.


imago images / penofoto

Provisions for companies

In Germany, the so-called avian influenza regulation prescribes the rules. Everyone who wants to enter a chicken coop must wear a protective suit and boot covers. Farm animals and pets should also be kept away from feeding and drinking places for wild birds. Drinking troughs may only be filled with tap water and not with surface water. If the farmers violate the regulation, the animal disease funds pay a lower amount of compensation.

If migratory birds would come and the geese would invade here in flocks and also eat the grass from the chickens, the bad thing would also be the droppings they leave behind, and then of course the greatest danger would be that we would get the virus here.

Dirk Bartels, farmer from Sehde near Hanover

Geese on the bank (Photo: Imago, imago images / penofoto)

Avian influenza cases have increased in wild birds on the North and Baltic Sea coasts for a week. The west coast of Schleswig-Holstein is particularly affected. Thousands of animals from domestic poultry holdings have been killed in accordance with the Avian Influence Ordinance.


imago images / penofoto

An epidemic depends on winter

It is difficult to assess whether southern Germany will be spared the epidemic. This depends on the winter this year. If it is a hard winter, the migratory birds pass Lake Constance on their flight south and rest there. If it is rather mild, they stay on the coasts of the Baltic and North Seas.

Because the virus is particularly aggressive this year, the large populations in Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania are already affected. Lower Saxony must also expect the pathogen to creep into the large stables.

Migratory birds spread the virus (Photo: Imago, imago images / penofoto)

The pathogen last had a major impact in Germany in 2017. Here, too, migratory birds brought so-called bird flu.


imago images / penofoto

I look at my work cell phone every morning and expect that we also have avian influenza in Lower Saxony (…) Schleswig Holstein, Mecklenburg Western Pomerania, in the Netherlands, we are everywhere in between, I honestly expect it too, I am very worried .

Barbara Otte-Kinast, CDU Agriculture Minister Lower Saxony

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