Multiple BIRD FLU outbreaks across Europe, Russia and Asia force culling of 1 million birds

Several outbreaks of severe bird flu in Europe and Asia have been reported in recent days to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), in a sign the virus is spreading quickly again.

The spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, has put the poultry industry on alert after previous outbreaks led to the culling of tens of millions of birds. Outbreaks also often lead to trade restrictions.

It is attracting the attention too of epidemiologists as the virus can be transmitted to humans. China has reported 21 human infections with the H5N6 subtype of avian influenza so far this year, more than in the whole of 2020.

Bird flu in Asia

South Korea reported an outbreak at a farm of around 770,000 poultry in Chungcheongbuk-do, the OIE said on Monday, citing a report from the South Korean authorities. All animals were slaughtered.

Also in Asia, Japan reported its first outbreak of the 2021 winter season, at a poultry farm in the northeast of the country, the OIE said, confirming a statement last week by Japan’s agriculture ministry. The serotype in this outbreak was H5N8 read. 143,000 birds were killed.

Bird flu in Europe

In Europe, Norway reported an H5N1 bird flu outbreak in the Rogaland region in a flock of 7,000 birds, the OIE said.

In GB, thirteen HPAI H5N1 events in wild birds have been reported including the east
coast of Scotland, the west coast, east coast and north-east of England, the Midlands, and
north Wales. To date there have been three confirmed cases of HPAI H5N1 in captive
birds, and one in poultry in GB.

In northern Europe, Germany and Poland have reported HPAI H5N1 in domestic poultry, while in southern Europe, further outbreaks of HPAIH5/H5N1 have been reported on fattening turkey farms in northern Italy.

The Belgian government put the country on increased risk for bird flu, ordering poultry to be kept indoors as of Monday, after a highly pathogenic variant of bird flu was identified in a wild goose near Antwerp. read more

This followed a similar move in neighbouring France earlier this month and in the Netherlands in October.

Wild bird H5N1 cases continue to be reported in north-west Germany/Denmark, in the coastal regions of the Netherlands, and birds in south-west Sweden, near Malmö. The Republic of Ireland have reported their first case of HPAI H5N1 this season, in wild birds in Galway.

HPAI re-emerges Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine

Over the past week, Russia’s veterinary authority has officially registered new outbreaks in poultry flocks in four different regions. In each case, and H5 virus has been detected but the strain is not further specified in reports to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

The only outbreaks described as involving “poultry” in these reports were two in the Republic of Bashkortostan. They represent the first ever detection of this virus strain in the region, which is part of the Volga federal district. Affected were two farms identified as “Altyn Kaz.” More than 4,000 of the geese and turkeys at these units died early in October. The remaining 5,017 birds have been culled to prevent further spread of the infection.

The Republic of Kazakhstan’s veterinary authorities have reported what is described as the first occurrence of H5 HPAI virus in the nation’s poultry flocks. During the third week of September, this virus variant was detected in two large backyard flocks following elevated mortality. Affected were a flock of around 3,500 birds in the North Kazakhstan region, and 1,000 in Aktobe.

Could new avian flu season in Europe be as serious as the last?

Europe’s poultry sector will be hoping that the coming winter does not turn out to be a repeat of last year’s in terms of a series of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks.

Early signs are not promising. Already in September, the first cases of HPAI were reported in poultry and wild birds in the east of Europe. In the past two months, outbreaks have been reported in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and four Russian federal districts. Likely sources of infection were migrating birds on-route to or arriving at their winter habitats.

In its latest assessment of the avian flu situation, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stated that HPAI virus has already been detected this autumn in western Russia, and north of the Mongolian border with Russia. As these are key migration areas of wild water-birds, EFSA concluded that the findings present a risk of the possible spread of the virus via wild birds migrating to other parts of Europe.

Although cases of avian flu declined in Europe in the spring and summer, the disease persisted in the north of the region even into September. As a consequence, EFSA warned, the threat of infection to poultry may come from resident wild birds as well as migrating species this year.

Better prepared

Despite these portents, there are signs that veterinary agencies and poultry farmers may be better prepared for the threat of HPAI this year.

In recent weeks, authorities in France and Poland initiated measures to avoid a repeat of the massive losses those countries incurred from HPAI last year.

Warnings have been issued by governments to their nations’ poultry owners.

In the United Kingdom (U.K.), for example, chief veterinary officers have been urging all poultry owners to improve biosecurity, maintain buildings in good condition, and take care to disinfect footwear before and after entering premises where poultry are kept.

Among the latest advice to U.K. poultry keepers is to keep chickens and turkeys separate from ducks and geese. Other measures aim to avoid contact between poultry and wild species, such as fencing outdoor access to keep domestic birds away from wild birds, and placing feed and water in fully enclosed areas.

Outbreaks generally occur in the autumn, spread by migrating wild birds. Bird flu cannot be transmitted through the eating of poultry products. What are we going to eat for Thanksgiving and Christmas? [Reuters]