In the past two weeks, new outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) have been officially recorded in poultry — two in France and one in Belgium. Meanwhile, the avian flu situation has been declared closed in Bulgaria and the United Kingdom. One year on from some significant outbreaks, officials in the Republic of Tatarstan appear to be encouraging a preemptive cull of backyard poultry flocks.

Earlier this month, France’s agriculture minister raised the avian flu risk level from “low” to “moderate.” This followed the detection of the H5N8 HPAI virus variant in a small mixed poultry flock in Ardennes. Located in the north of the country, this department borders Belgium.

Further details of the outbreak emerged in a subsequent official report from the French veterinary authority. According to the notification to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), a total of 598 birds were affected by the outbreak in Vandy. Privately owned, the flock comprised six Egyptian geese, and 592 birds of different species, including chickens, ducks, quail, turkeys, and doves. Of these, 46 birds died, and the rest have been culled.

In the report, it is noted that the virus belongs to the clade 2.3.4.4.b, and it has a different cleavage sites from the virus of the same “family” that was circulating in France in late 2020 and earlier this year.

A previous French outbreak has been reported to the OIE retrospectively. At the end of August, a bird owner in Aubenton in the department of Aisne reported the death of 18 of the 33 birds in the flock. Testing positive for the H5N8 HPAI virus, some of the birds had recently been purchased from the Belgian market trader linked to other HPAI outbreaks in the area. Aisne borders Ardennes. 

France’s last HPAI disease wave resulted in almost 500 outbreaks in 15 departments, and the culling of around 3.5 million birds. Worst affected were the duck and goose flocks in the south-west of the country.

At the start of September, the ministry had announced that the 2020-2021 HPAI outbreak series linked to the H5N8 virus variant in France had been closed.

In recent news, the French agriculture ministry has eased some of the restrictions on hunting during this autumn/fall. As long as the avian flu risk level remains at moderate — as it is currently — transportation of decoy birds is permitted. If it is raised to high as a result of new outbreaks, such bird movements will only be permitted by registered owners, who must have no more than 15 birds, and no connections with poultry. Furthermore, it will be required that all such movements are recorded so officials can track and trace any future infections. 

Belgium records third outbreak

In the province of Luxembourg, a third Belgian poultry flock has tested positive for the H5N8 HPAI virus variant. Affected were five birds, all of which died. 

These cases bring to three the country’s number of confirmed outbreaks since the end of August. Directly impacted have been a total of 362 poultry.

Bulgaria, UK declare avian flu situation closed

To the OIE Bulgaria’s animal health agency last week declared avian flu “resolved” across the country. 

This declaration followed three earlier confirmed outbreaks at farms with a total of almost 122,000 poultry. All were located in Plovdiv, and were infected in April and May of this year. The province of Plovdiv is in central-southern Bulgaria.

Over the past two weeks, the veterinary authority in the United Kingdom (U.K.) has reported to the OIE that a number of avian flu outbreaks are now “closed.” 

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For the poultry sector, most important has been closure of the H5N8 HPAI outbreak waves. Between October of 2020 and March this year, 19 outbreaks occurred that were linked to virus variant. Directly impacted were almost 408,000 birds, including more than 406,000 poultry on farms and in non-commercial flocks.

Following two outbreaks — one in December of last year and one in February — the authorities have also closed the situation relating to the H5N1 HPAI virus in UK poultry. Furthermore, the situation is resolved regarding H5N2 and H5N3 low-pathogenic avian influenza virus subtypes in domestic birds. 

As for cases in wild birds, the U.K. has reported the disease situation closed with respect to the H5N8 HPAI virus. Furthermore, no new cases have been detected for several months regarding the H5N1, H5N3 or H5N5 variants. 

Current overview of the avian flu situation across Europe

In 2021, 1,188 HPAI outbreaks in poultry have been registered across 19 European states. This is according to the latest update on the Animal Disease Information System of the European Commission (EC; as of September 22).

Recording the highest number of outbreaks was France (474 outbreaks for the year to date), followed by Poland (339), and Germany (229). Only Kosovo and Poland reported new cases to the EC in August, and there has been none so far this month.

Based on information supplied to the this source, 29 countries have recorded 1,702 HPAI outbreaks in wild birds and non-commercial poultry flocks so far this year. 

In the month of September to date, new cases in wild species or captive birds have been confirmed in Belgium, Finland, France, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and Sweden. 

Tatarstan owners urged to carry out preemptive poultry cull

Earlier this month, officials in the Republic of Tatarstan were urging backyard poultry owners to slaughter their birds, reported Realnoe Vremya. Any signs of ill-health or unusual mortality in birds must be reported, and all vehicles transporting poultry must be cleaned and disinfected. 

Veterinarians said that these flocks increased the threat of avian flu to the territory’s commercial poultry. 

When HPAI infected poultry flocks in the region around 12 months ago, migrating wild birds were blamed for spreading the disease. So authorities have ruled that from now on, commercial poultry must be isolated from wild species, particularly wild ducks.

A total of 18 HPAI outbreaks have been reported in Russia, according to a senior official at the regional office of the nation’s agriculture watchdog. These have occurred in a number of areas, including the oblasts of Astrakhan, Chelyabinsk, Krasnodar, Rostov, and Tyumen, as well as Dagestan and Tuva, reports the same source.

Located in Russia’s Volga federal district, Tatarstan experienced a major HPAI outbreak in a commercial turkey flock at the end of last year.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.