News of the latest outbreaks of avian influenza in Europe comes at the worst time ahead of the holiday season when demand for special poultry products reaches a peak. Despite justifiable assurances that these products are safe for consumers, some may be making other choices and significant export trade is under threat.

Already this week, there have been seven new outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in France, detected in the department of Dordogne, two in Landes and one in Haute Vienne, the agriculture ministry reported on December 9. The first confirmed outbreak was in a backyard flock in Dordogne on November 24. The total number of outbreaks in poultry to 10, all of which have been in the southwest of the country.

Further details of these and previous outbreaks are revealed in reports from the French government to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). Of the four latest cases, three were detected in the Dordogne and one in Haute-Vienne. The first of the Dordogne outbreaks was at a farm with 14,000 ducks. Samples were taken as part of the scheduled national surveillance; initially, the H5N1 virus was isolated but additional sampling revealed an H5N9 strain virus. Following the deaths of nine birds in a mixed backyard flock at another premises in Dordogne, the H5N1 HPAI virus was isolated and the remaining hens, ducks and geese were destroyed. In order to leave the control area, samples were taken from a third farm in Dordogne; all the birds were destroyed. At a small farm in Haute Vienne, samples taken after the death of 3 birds tested positive for the H5N1 variant of the HPAI virus.

On December 1, samples were taken from another farm in the Dordogne department to allow the poultry to leave the restriction zone around the previous outbreak at Domme. Around 1,000 ducks and 4,000 hens there were slaughtered on December 7 after the H5N2 highly pathogenic virus was identified.

On the same day, France’s ministry of agriculture reported to the OIE a third variant of the HPAI virus. The H5N9 subtype was confirmed at three farms – two in the department of Landes and one in Dordogne - between November 18 and December 2. Ducks at the first farm in Landes were tested as part of the enhanced surveillance program. A spike in mortality raised the alarm for the 630 ducks at the second premises, which was in Dordogne. The most recent outbreak was at another farm in Landes with 24,500 guinea fowl and capons; around 700 birds died and the rest have been destroyed.


Low pathogenic avian flu in three countries

A low pathogenic H5N2 virus has been isolated from two ducks farms in Dordogne after samples taken on November 18 from two duck farms in Landes were tested by the National Reference Laboratory.

In its latest update, the French Ministry of Agriculture says it is cooperating with the authorities in all regions on the use of appropriate protective measures to prevent the risk of the disease spreading further.

Eight countries have banned imports of French poultry meat and products, reports Reuters. Among them is Japan, which is France's biggest export market for foie gras. All the outbreaks have been in France's major foie gras producing region and just before demand peaks over the holiday season.

In Bavaria in southeast Germany, a mixed flock of 9,500 laying hens, 2,000 ducks, 100 turkeys and 1,500 free-range geese has tested positive for the H5N2 low-pathogenic avian influenza virus. In its report to the OIE, the federal agriculture ministry says that all the poultry have been destroyed and safely disposed of. The holding has been under restriction since December 4, and no poultry, poultry meat or eggs have been moved outside the region.

From Italy, Ravenna Today reported on November 11 that sampling carried out by the Department of Public Health for the region of Romagna had revealed a low pathogenic virus of the H5N2 subtype at a poultry farm during routine surveillance.