Over the past two weeks, further cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in poultry were officially reported by 12 countries across Europe. Among these, France and Italy continue to be the most affected by the spread of infection.

The most prevalent virus serotype — H5N1 — also continues to be detected in wild birds widely across the continent.

So far this year, 16 European countries have registered one or more HPAI outbreaks in poultry. This is according to the Animal Disease Information System of the European Commission (EC; as of February 13). Up to that date, the System has a total of 408 outbreaks in 2022 up to that date. This is an increase of 45 since the previous edition on February 6.

Registering the most outbreaks has been France with 285 so far this year, followed by Hungary (29), Poland (20), Italy (16), and Germany (15).

The first outbreak of the year has occurred in poultry in Northern Ireland. As previously reported, this affected a farm during the first week of February. 

Also reporting new cases through this system since the end of last month were the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. 

France: 379 outbreaks in poultry this season

So far this winter, 364 HPAI outbreaks linked to the H5N1 virus serotype have occurred on farms in France, and 15 more in non-commercial flocks. These figures are from the agriculture ministry (as on February 18). 

While this source does not given details of size or type of flock, the season’s first cases on commercial premises have been confirmed in Indre-et-Loire and Mayenne. These departments are in the Centre-Val de Loire, and Pays de la Loire regions, respectively, in central and western France. Accounting for by far the most outbreaks on farms — 230 — is the department of Landes in the southwestern region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. 

In the past week, French authorities have officially registered 101 new HPAI outbreaks, all on commercial farms. These were confirmed in the period January 5-February 10 in a notification to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). 

Directly impacted were almost 415,000 poultry. Mainly affected were flocks of ducks, but cases were also detected among chickens, broilers, guinea fowl, turkeys, and mixed species. Individual outbreaks involved flocks of between 250 and more than 42,000 poultry in three regions — mainly Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie in the southwest. One outbreak was in Pays de la Loire. For the majority of the more recent outbreaks in ducks, birds are being culled following testing, but before signs of illness or mortality rises. 

In this winter season, France’s first HPAI outbreak was confirmed at the end of November. Since then, the nation’s authorities have recorded 302 confirmed outbreaks with the OIE, involving more than 1.83 million commercial and backyard birds. 

Around 3.4 million poultry — mainly ducks in the southwest of the country — were culled in France during the 2020-2021 winter.  

France pushes for poultry vaccination in Europe

As France took over the presidency of the European Council, the country’s agriculture minister repeated his support for vaccinating poultry against HPAI. 

Minister Julien Denormandie raised the issue as he addressed his first meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, reported Euractiv. Although the virus currently circulating in Europe so far presents only a very low risk to human health, the minister described the continent’s disease situation as the worst wave of avian flu in poultry ever recorded.

He said that two new vaccines against the disease will shortly enter a test phase in France. 

Currently, vaccination against avian flu is not permitted in the European Union (EU). This is primarily because it has been impossible to distinguish vaccinated birds from those that are infected.

Further outbreaks in southern Europe

In the first two weeks of February, HPAI outbreaks have occurred at seven more farms in Spain. 

According to the OIE reports, positive tests for the H5N1 HPAI virus serotype were obtained from six premises in Andalusia in the south of the country, and at one farm in the north-west in Castile and León. Affected were a total of more than 259,000 birds, including four flocks of turkeys, as well as laying hens and breeder hens. 

Since the first cases in Spain in mid-January, nine outbreaks have been confirmed in these two regions. More than 319,000 poultry have been directly impacted.

In Portugal, the number of outbreaks in poultry since the end of December currently stands at five, affecting more than 124,500 birds.

Reported to the OIE over the past week are three new outbreaks, all in the western district around the capital, Lisbon. Testing positive for the H5N1 virus were two breeder flocks — two of chickens and one of ducks.

Advertisement

Italy has confirmed one new HPAI outbreak in poultry, bringing its total outbreaks to 309. According to the national health authority and research organization for animal health and food safety, IZSVe, the disease hit a farm with meat ducks in Pavia in the Lombardy region.

Earlier this month, the H5N1 virus was also detected in two small backyard flocks in Prato province in Tuscany. 

Prior to these outbreaks, Italy had reported no new cases for almost one month. These are the first HPAI outbreaks of this season in the provinces of Pavia and Prato. 

So far this year, almost 14.7 million poultry in Italy have been directly impacted by the H5N1 HPAI virus. The country’s first cases of the season were confirmed in mid-October of 2021. 

More cases on poultry farms in Poland, Russia

So far this year, there have been 21 confirmed HPAI outbreaks in Poland. This is according to the nation’s chief veterinary office (as of February 18).

The most recent cases have been detected at three farms, with the latest to be affected were a mixed flock of around 41,717 poultry in Pomerania, and two premises with meat ducks in Lodz and Greater Poland (Wielkopolskie).

Previously, the Polish veterinary authority reported to the OIE that two flocks had tested positive for the H5N1 virus in Kuyavia-Pomerania during the first week of February. 

In Russia’s North Caucasus federal district, the H5N1 HPAI virus has been detected at a fourth turkey farm operated by AgroPlus. As reported to the OIE, the firm’s latest unit to be hit by the disease housed around 65,000 birds, bringing the total losses of poultry so far in Stavropol krai to more than 186,600 birds.

The most recent reports to the OIE from the Czech Republic and Romania indicate one additional outbreak in a small non-commercial poultry flock in each country.

Poultry involved in outbreaks in northwestern Europe

In mid-February, broilers at a farm in the German state of Lower Saxony tested positive for the H5N1 virus serotype. Of the around 92,200 birds at the premises, 30 died, according to the OIE notification. The rest of the flock has been destroyed. 

Meanwhile, the Dutch animal health agency has confirmed a further four HPAI outbreaks in poultry with the OIE. These affected one backyard flock, and three farms with laying hens — around 6,000 and 77,000 birds in Gelderland, and 51,000 more in Groningen. So far this winter, almost 1.36 million poultry in the Netherlands have been involved in HPAI outbreaks.

Latest poultry flocks in the United Kingdom (U.K.) to test positive for the H5N1 HPAI virus were one commercial flock and a two groups of other birds. 

According to the latest reports to the OIE, more than 18,000 broiler breeders were on the affected farm in the southern English county of Hampshire. Other outbreaks were also in England — at a nature reserve in Norfolk, and ornamental birds in Northumberland. 

Earlier this month, half of a small flock of laying hens in Denmark died. Investigations at the premises in the Zealand region revealed the presence of the H5N1 virus variant, and the remaining 400 birds have been destroyed.

HPAI cases in European wild birds approach 1,000

For the year to date, HPAI outbreaks in wild birds across Europe reported to the EC animal disease system have reached 962 (as of February 13). This represents an increase of 167 compared with the previous update one week earlier.

Of the 23 states that have registered cases through this system, Germany has detected the most outbreaks in wild species (494), followed by the Netherlands (185), and Denmark (55).

Also confirming with the EC new outbreaks since February 6 were Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden. 

Over the past week, Croatia, Hungary, Norway, and the U.K. have notified the OIE about new cases of HPAI in wild birds. In all these cases, presence of the H5N1 HPAI virus serotype was confirmed. 

Ireland’s veterinary authority has also registered with the OIE a single case of an infection with this virus variant in an unusual species. Testing positive was a fox found dead in County Donegal. Subsequently, the agency closed the outbreaks series, without any further cases being detected in this species. 

Also declaring to the OIE that a disease situation was “resolved” was the Belgian animal health agency. Applying to the H5N8 HPAI variant, the declaration followed three confirmed outbreaks in captive birds and backyard flocks during August of 2021.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.