Since mid-December of 2015, veterinary authorities in four countries have reported further outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in poultry to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Worst affected in terms of individual outbreaks has been France,but Nigeria has suffered the greatest losses of birds.

Is France gaining control over HPAI outbreaks?

The number of outbreaks of HPAI in France has increased to 65, according to the latest update from the French ministry of agriculture dated January 5. Poultry in sevenregions (departments) in the southwest of the country are now affected, the most recent being Lot. The department with the most outbreaks is Landes (27), followed by Dordogne (13), Gers and Pyrénnées-Atlantiques (each with 10), Hautes Pyrénnées (3) and finally Lot and Haute-Vienne with oneoutbreak each.

So far, highly pathogenic virus subtypes H5N1, H5N2 and H5N9 have been identified in poultry in the French outbreaks but in many cases, only H5 has been confirmed. Official reports sent to the OIE since mid-December cover more than 126,600 affected birds, the majority of which are identified as ducks and were tested because of their proximity to known outbreaks. Flocks testing positive for the HPAI viruses are scheduled for slaughter within the next week.

On December 18, following consultation with the health ministry and the poultry sector, the agriculture ministry introduced a new control framework in the south-west called the “restriction area.” Here, in addition to regulations from the European Union, there were additional measures covering restrictions on animal movements and routines for the cleaning, disinfection and depopulation of farms. This covers nine departments: Dordogne, Hautes-Pyrénées, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Landes, Lot et Garonne, Gironde, Haute-Vienne, Lot and some communities in Corrèze and Charente. The measures aimed to provide the necessary guarantees to EU and third-country importers of French poultry products.

In the United Kingdom, it has been announced that members of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association (BFREPA) will be insured for up to UKP50,000 (US$73,000) of secondary cleansing and disinfection costs if they are affected by an avian influenza outbreak. The scheme, developed by Insurance broker, Scrutton Bland,began on December 31.

While the government takes responsibility for preliminary cleansing and disinfection of any infected site, the farmer bears the cost of the necessary secondary cleansing and disinfection is borne by the farmer. Thisis a significant development for the UK egg industry, where almost 50 percent of production is free-range and the majority of this output is from BFREPA members.

Nigeria, Ghana continue to report new outbreaks of HPAI

Ghana has reported five new outbreaks of H5N1 HPAI, all in the Greater Accra area, in the week between the end of November and the beginning of December. In all, 27,362 birds were affected on 2 farms with mixed poultry and in 3 backyard flocks – 641 died and the rest have been destroyed.

Deputy Food and Agriculture Minister in charge of livestock, Dr. Hannah Bissiw, has defended the government’s response to the avian influenza outbreaks, which began in August of 2015. According to Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, she said the government has taken all possible action to control the disease, and she criticized media reports over the festive period that poultry meat was unsafe to eat. She added that the Government only compensates farmers whose birds are destroyed due to avian flu infection.

Meanwhile, Nigeria has reported five recent outbreaks of H5N1 HPAI in poultry flocks, affecting around 478,000 birds in the states of Delta in the south, Kano in the north and Enugu in central Nigeria.

Taiwan reports new outbreaks

Last month, the veterinary authority in Taiwan reported to OIE seven new outbreaks of HPAI caused by the H5N2 virus variant, affecting more than 38,000 poultry including chickens, native chickens, geese and turkeys. The H5N8 virus was confirmed at a further 3 outbreaks affecting around 11,400 native ducks, geese and chickens.

Myanmar has declared the country free of AI, and there have been no reports of HPAI outbreaks in Vietnam since early December.

Further influenza cases reported in people in China

In December, China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) has notified the World Health Organization (WHO) about two confirmed cases of human infection with avian influenza A (H7N9) virus. Both patients – one in Meizhou City, Guangdong Province and the other in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province – are known to have had contact with poultry.

WHO has also been informed about 2 confirmed cases of human infection with avian influenza A (H5N6) virus. These cases were in women in the Baoan District of Shenzhen City and the Duanzhou district of Zhaoqing City. WHO continues to closely monitor the situation and conduct risk assessments for this virus sub-type but so far, the overall risk is unchanged.