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Increased bird death in North Rhine-Westphalia due to the Usutu virus?
For years there have been outbreaks of the so-called Usutu virus in Germany. The virus can affect birds and mammals, and in birds infection often ends in death. This year, too, many birds in Germany have died as a result of the Usutu virus. The Naturschutzbund found that a large number of the cases occurred in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Again this year, the Usutu virus affects Germany. The nature conservation association stated that about 1,380 birds have already been classified as suspected cases this year. The majority of the animals affected came from North Rhine-Westphalia.
Blackbirds particularly affected
In 2011, a noticeable blackbird death was last observed. But since the beginning of July this year, reports of sick and blackbirds that died a short time later have been piling up again, experts from the nature conservation association explain. In some of these cases, it has been confirmed that the Usutu virus was actually the cause of death. The Usutu virus deaths occur during the mosquito season from May to September. Infected birds appear sick, apathetic and they no longer run away from people or other dangers. After this condition, the birds concerned usually die within a few days. Since the disease is almost always found in blackbirds, the Usutu epidemic is often colloquially referred to as blackbird death.
A lot of dead birds in NRW
In North Rhine-Westphalia alone, more than 500 reports have been received, which may have affected infected birds, explain the scientists of the nature conservation association in a press release. About 100 other reports came from the area of Baden-Württemberg and Saxony. The experts report that around 130 dead birds have been tested at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine for the virus, which originally comes from South Africa. The Usutu virus has been clearly detected in 45 birds so far. A third of the carcasses come from NRW, nine come from Saxony, five from Rhineland-Palatinate and another five from Hesse.
Further investigations have not yet been completed
Ongoing investigations into around 20 other dead birds are expected to be completed by the end of November. This year, the disease appears to have spread to regions in the north, the researchers say. Some cases have been observed in the Bremen and Hamburg area this year. Blackbird populations appear to have suffered severely from the disease in the affected areas. The scientists from the nature conservation association see the infection as a continuation of the outbreak of the Usutu virus from the previous year.
How should you deal with sick or dead birds?
Fortunately, due to the transmission of the virus by mosquitoes, the disease in Germany is only limited to the warmer seasons. Because of the large mosquito plagues in some regions of Germany this summer, there were likely to be more infections, experts of the nature conservation association suspect. If you find animals that are obviously sick or already dead, you should report them and the carcasses of the dead birds should be sent in, according to the NABU. You can also specify suspicious birds or carcasses in the so-called reporting campaign for the extinction of blackbirds by the nature conservation association.
Where does the virus come from and how did it get to Europe?
The Usutu virus (USUV) comes from the family of the so-called flaviviruses. It is transmitted between birds with the help of mosquitoes. These are considered the main hosts of the disease. The virus responsible for many bird deaths originally comes from Africa. The name of the virus comes from the Usutu River in Swaziland. The virus was probably introduced to Europe long ago by migratory birds. There have been minor outbreaks of the virus among birds in Europe since the mid-1990s. These often go hand in hand with blackbird death, the experts from the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine explain in an FAQ on the Usutu virus. (as)