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Usutu virus causes blackbird death in Germany - people at risk too?


Dangerous pathogen: Usutu virus in birds continues to spread

In 2010, the tropical Usutu virus, which is transmitted to birds by mosquitoes, was first detected in Germany. In the following years, the pathogen repeatedly caused regional bird death. There is currently a violent wave of infections with the dangerous virus in North Rhine-Westphalia. Are people at risk too?

Mass death of blackbirds by Usutu virus

"After the first detection of the Usutu virus transmitted by mosquitos in Germany in 2010, there was a large-scale outbreak in 2011/2012, which caused the mass extinction of blackbirds in southwestern Germany," explains the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical medicine (BNITM) on his website. In the following years, the pathogen continued to circulate in the country and triggered massive bird extinction in the past year. Many birds in North Rhine-Westphalia are currently infected with the dangerous virus.

Most of the suspected cases from NRW

In North Rhine-Westphalia there is currently a violent wave of infections with the tropical Usutu virus.

As the bird protection expert of the Nature Conservation Association (NABU), Marius Adrion, told the German Press Agency, more than 500 suspected cases from NRW had already been reported in 2017.

This means that the majority of the 1,380 reports nationwide this year come from NRW. At BNITIM, around 130 dead birds have been tested for the virus originally from South Africa; it was found in 45 birds.

Not only affected blackbirds

Sick animals can be recognized by their behavior. "Infected birds are obviously sick, apathetic, no longer flee and usually die within a few days," NABU wrote in a message. According to the conservationists, the animals cannot be helped.

"It is almost always blackbirds that are diagnosed with this disease, which is why the Usutu epidemic has become known as 'blackbird death'. However, other bird species are also infected by this virus and can die from it, ”said the experts.

There will hardly be any new cases in autumn and winter. Because the pathogen is transmitted by mosquitoes, the disease in Germany is limited to the warm season.

In view of the mosquito infestation, NABU had suspected increased infections in some regions this summer.

Citizens were asked to report sick and dead animals online or to send in the carcasses.

Danger to people?

According to the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, the transmission of Usutu viruses to humans is rather accidental (also via mosquitoes) and can lead to Usutu fever.

Symptoms include fever, headache, and rash; In rare cases, brain inflammation can occur.

According to the BNITM, two infections have been discovered in Germany so far, but these have not caused any illnesses in the people affected. "Since the people had not made any trips, they must have been infected in Germany," write the experts.

"An infection with the Usutu virus seems to be possible in Germany, but is not yet a cause for concern and will continue to be monitored by blood donation centers together with scientific institutions."

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