In Poland, the avian flu situation that has been deteriorating over the past few weeks appears to be getting worse.

In the period March 18-31, Poland’s chief veterinary office confirmed a total of 42 outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza HPAI in poultry flocks. All but two of the outbreaks were in commercial flocks, and the total number of birds involved in these outbreaks were almost 1.07 million.

At each location, the presence of the H5N8 virus variant was confirmed. One area has become a particular hot spot for HPAI cases, namely Kalisz County in Greater Poland (Wielkopolskie). Over this period, the first HPAI cases have been confirmed in the province of Silesia (Slaskie), and other outbreaks have hit premises in Mazovia and Lesser Poland (Malopolskie). While Silesia and Lesser Poland are neighboring provinces in the south of the country, Greater Poland and Mazovia are in central Poland.

These latest cases bring to 93 the number of HPAI outbreaks in the country so far this year.

France sets up regional avian flu working groups

Last week, France’s agriculture minister Julien Normandie set out a series of measures to prevent a further epidemic of HPAI among the country’s poultry flocks.

Since November of last year, the sector has been suffering its third series of outbreaks in five years. With more than 3.5 million birds culled, the worst affected area has been duck and goose farmers in the southwest of the country, according to the agriculture ministry.

Already, national working groups have met to address six broad areas to prevent another HPAI crisis. These are addressing aspects of preparation for and management of any future epidemic, biosecurity, adapting production methods and the possibility of vaccination

Groups have also been set out to address aspects of poultry production in the regions of New Aquiaine and Occitaine, which cover the department's worst-affected by this winter's HPAI infections.

Together, these parties are called on by the minister to draw up a preliminary roadmap by the end of this month to identify the main areas where progress is needed. By the end of June, all stakeholders must validate the plants so that preparations can be made ahead of the next winter season.

The latest update from the ministry puts the number of HPAI outbreaks in France since November 2020 at 489. This is just one more than on March 23. Affected was one poultry flock in the department of Gers in the southwest of the Country, bringing its total outbreaks to 66. The worst-affected continues to be nearby Landes (341 outbreaks). Fourteen outbreaks have been confirmed in poultry in other regions of France, and 20 cases have been detected in wild birds across the country. 

No end in sight to Germany’s avian flu challenges

While the number of new cases of HPAI in France appears to be slowing down, no such end is yet in sight in Germany, according to the national veterinary reference laboratory, Friedrich-Loeffler Institute  (FLI). The current epidemic is assessed as much more damaging than in 2016-2017. 

So far this winter, 133 outbreaks of HPAI linked to a virus of an H5 group had been confirmed in German poultry flocks (as of March 25), including six in zoos and similar facilities. There have also been around 1,000 cases in wild birds in a situation exacerbated by the spring migration of waterfowl. As a result, the risk of new outbreaks is high, and so biosecurity around poultry must remain at a high level.

On April 3, FLI had a total of 3,500 confirmed cases of HPAI in poultry and other birds in Germany. This is an increase of 185 from March 24. Over this period, the first cases have been reported in the central state of Thuringia and there has been a sharp spike in Baden Wurttemberg in the south of the country. In both regions, there have been multiple cases in laying hens, pullets, and meat chickens. Less affected but still registering some cases have been five other German states. 

General avian flu situation in European poultry flocks

As of March 21, there had been 650 confirmed HPAI outbreaks in poultry in Europe. This is according to the Animal Disease Notification System of the European Commission  (EC) in its latest update of March 24. This is an increase of 82 from the previous update to March 7. 

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This total includes 426 outbreaks in France, 98 in Germany, 59 in Poland, 14 in Sweden, and 13 in the Czech Republic. A further 13 nations have registered between one and 10 outbreaks with this agency so far this year. 

During the whole of 2020, this system registered just 442 HPAI outbreaks among European poultry flocks.

In the United Kingdom (U.K.) over the past week, the H5N8 HPAI virus has been detected at commercial broiler farm in Uttoxeter in Staffordshire in central England.

A three-kilometer protection zone and 10-kilomter surveillance zone were put in place around the infected premises. Affecting a total of more than 49,000 birds, this is the second HPAI outbreak in England so far this year.

According to the agriculture department Defra, this development did not impact the lifting of the poultry housing order that was scheduled to be lifted for the whole of England on March 31. However, the avian influenza prevention zone measures requiring enhanced biosecurity remains in force. Among these requirements are to keep free-range poultry in a fenced area, and away from ponds, watercourses and standing water.

Also at the end of March, a commercial flock of 4,540 turkey breeders in Winsford in Cheshire in northwest England tested positive for a low pathogenic variant of the H5N3 virus. All the birds have been culled, and a one-kilometer restricted zone was set up around the premises.

While Sweden's veterinary authority has recorded no further HPAI outbreaks with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), there has been one new outbreak in a small flock in Estonia. 

According to the Hungarian animal health agency’s recent report to the OIE, the HPAI situation in poultry in Bacs-Kiskun has been “resolved.” This followed four outbreaks linked to the H5N8 virus variant in laying hens flocks in this southern county in January and early February. More than 212,000 birds were directly impacted by these outbreaks.

Many European states register new cases of HPAI on wild birds

The number of confirmed outbreaks of HPAI among wild birds in Europe so far this year has reached 917 (as of March 21). Eighteen European states have registered at least one confirmed case, according to the latest update from the EC’s notification system. Compared to the previous update to March 7, this represents an increase of 347.

Recording the most cases so far has been Germany, with a total of 450 outbreaks — 193 more than the previous update. Other countries registering large numbers of outbreaks are Denmark (now with 161), Poland (69), Sweden (37), and Latvia (36). A further 19 states have confirmed between one and 20 outbreaks so far this year. This includes Croatia, which reported in mid-March its first HPAI cases in wild birds in 2021. 

So far this year, six European states have reported HPAI in captive birds to the EC. Total outbreaks in this category for the region stand at 17.

In addition to the countries already mentioned, over the past week, OIE has received confirmation of new HPAI cases among wild birds from the veterinary authorities in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine, and the U.K. In the majority of these cases, the birds tested positive for the H5N8 HPAI virus variant. Some were only able to confirm a member of the H5 group, while others identified the H5N1 or H5N5 variants.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.