Bizarre Swan Deaths Reported in Europe As Birds Die After Bleeding From Nostrils and Spinning in Circles

A virulent strain of avian flu that's spreading across northwestern Europe may be responsible for a series of mysterious swan deaths in the U.K., post-mortem examinations have revealed.

In recent weeks, wildlife rescuers have spotted swans spinning in circles and bleeding from their nostrils before dying, The Guardian reported.

In Ulverston, northwest England, where at least 8 swans have died, one volunteer said they had never seen such strange symptoms.

"Many of them started to spin on their axis in one direction. It was terrible to see. Some of them were discharging from their nostrils and some of it was bloody," Caroline Sim from local swan rescue operation Flying Free told The Guardian.

David Cash, a swan rescuer from Worcester in central England where at least 25 swans have died, witnessed birds suffering from avian flu-like symptoms.

"The swans were looking lethargic and not wanting food, and doing a lot of coughing—it's similar to the symptoms of COVID," he told The Guardian.

The U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has tested several dead swans, finding that at least six had contracted the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain, which was detected circulating among farmyard and wild birds in Central Asia in July, 2020.

The strain has now been detected in northwestern Europe, including the Netherlands, the U.K., Sweden, Germany, France, Denmark and Ireland, prompting authorities to introduce countermeasures. Experts think the strain was brought to Europe by birds that migrate westwards to warmer climates between August and December.

While avian flu has caused deaths in swans as well other wild birds, such as geese, in recent weeks, Ruth Cromie from the U.K. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust told The Guardian that it originally spread from poultry.

"Wild birds are often seen as evil vectors, but they are victims of a virus that originally spread from poultry. Wild birds get used as scapegoats for poor biosecurity and people moving chickens around the globe," she said.

The H5N8 strain was responsible for a significant outbreak in the winter of 2016-2017 when around five million farmyard birds had to be culled in Germany, Poland and Hungary.

Dutch authorities have already culled hundreds of thousands of farm birds this year after avian flu outbreaks were detected, with a highly contagious strain of the H5 variant thought to be responsible.

There are now fears in the U.K. that the strain will wipe out large numbers of poultry over the winter, with several avian flu outbreaks confirmed across the country in recent weeks.

While the virus is highly lethal to wild birds and poultry, Public Health England has said that the risk to human health from the virus, for now, is "very low."

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This picture taken in Bruges, Belgium on November 19, 2020 shows a swan in an aviary. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images