Reports of mass deaths of blackbirds through the Rhine-Neckar area of Germany have been gathering pace over the last few weeks, and on Wednesday the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, pointed the finger at the Usutu virus which comes from Africa.
“The find is alarming as the Usutu virus can also infect people,” said Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, virologist at the Institute, although he stressed there was no known case of a person becoming infected with the virus in Germany.
He said his colleagues were still working to gather conclusive evidence of the virus in the dead birds.
It was found a year ago in mosquitoes in Germany, while the first human infection was discovered in 2009 in Italy.
“There is currently nothing to suggest that the Usutu virus in Germany could be transferred to people or that it could start an epidemic,” said Schmidt-Chanasit.
People elsewhere who have become infected with the virus suffer fever, headaches and skin rashes. The worst cases can develop into meningitis.
Environmentalist group NABU has been reporting a disappearance of blackbirds from regions in the south west over the last few months.
But the state bird protection office for Rhineland Palatinate, Hesse and Saarland warned against panic. “We do not yet have any evidence of thousands of blackbirds dying unexplained deaths, said Martin Hormann, deputy director of the office. He said more bird cadavers had to be examined before any conclusion could be drawn.
He said that blackbirds tend to be quieter and seen less during August and September when their breeding season is over.
“Amateurs could misunderstand this as evidence of them dying out,” he suggested.
“We have to look very closely at this,” he said, adding that mass deaths of blackbirds had already been seen in Austria, Italy, Hungary and Switzerland.