In 2022, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A(H5N1) virus clade 22.214.171.124b became enzootic and caused mass mortality in Sandwich terns and other seabird species across northwestern Europe. We present data on characteristics of the spread of the virus between breeding colonies and the number of dead adult Sandwich terns recorded at breeding sites throughout northwestern Europe. Within two months after the first mortalities were reported, in total 20,531 adult Sandwich terns were found dead, which is >17% of the total northwestern European breeding population. Losses are likely higher, as we expect that many victims were not found (mortality rate might be up to 74% of the breeding population). Inside the colonies almost all chicks died. After the peak of the outbreak, in a colony established by late breeders, 25.7% of adults showed immunity against HPAI subtype H5. Removal of carcasses helped in reducing the spread of the disease and consequently total mortality. More research on the sources and modes of transmission, incubation times, effective containment and immunity is urgently needed to combat this major threat for colonial seabirds.
|Publication status||Published - 2023|