Following a dramatic spike in new outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the Pays de la Loire region in western France, the nation’s agriculture ministry announced more stringent new disease controls in the area.

According to the latest data, 74 outbreaks linked to the H5N1 virus have been confirmed in this region. Several more outbreaks are suspected, with Vendée a particular hotspot for the disease currently. By March 4, the number of outbreaks confirmed in this department had reached 58 — up from nine just two weeks previously.

In the same region, Loire-Atlantique recorded its first cases in poultry on February 28. Already by March 6, 11 outbreaks were confirmed in this department.

By the end of last week, almost half a million poultry had been culled in the region.

While the national veterinary agency investigates the reasons for the spike in cases, the ministry has taken steps to tighten control measures.

Among these is the formation of a sixth team to carry out the depopulation of affected farms in the area. Furthermore, all poultry within 5km of key premises such as hatcheries and breeding units will be culled. Within the restricted areas, it is now prohibited for hatcheries to ship out hatching eggs or day-old chicks. Finally, the surveillance zone around outbreaks is being widened. Within this extended zone, the movement of poultry and depopulation of premises are now banned, with few exceptions.

The latest data from the ministry puts the number of confirmed HPAI outbreaks on farms so far this winter at 555 (as of March 9). This is an increase of 184 since February 25. Cases have been confirmed in 13 departments across six regions of mainland France. With 231 outbreaks, worst-affected department continues to be Landes in the southern region of Occitanie.

In addition, 17 outbreaks have been confirmed among French non-commercial poultry flocks. The virus has been detected across in 10 departments in this category of holding.

Official data up to March 2 put the number of French poultry directly impacted by HPAI so far at just under 2.9 million. This is according to notifications to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

European HPAI outbreaks in poultry approach 500

As of February 25, 17 European countries had registered one or more outbreaks in poultry so far this year. This is according to the latest update of the Animal Disease Information System by the European Commission (EC). Up to that date, the System has a total of 489 outbreaks for the year.

With 335 outbreaks recorded up to that date, France accounted for the most outbreaks. Next came Hungary (29), Poland (24), Germany and Italy (19), Spain (18), and the Netherlands (17).

Almost without exception, the H5N1 HPAI virus serotype has been detected at the location of each outbreak.

However, Poland reports the first discovery of the H5N2 variant in the country. In the southwestern province of Opole, birds in a backyard flock tested positive for this virus serotype at the end of February. 

Further outbreaks in northwestern Europe

Registering with the OIE six new outbreaks linked to the H5N1 virus over the past 10 days has been the Netherlands. Starting between February 23 and March 1, all these outbreaks were on commercial farms. Three of the premises were in the northeastern province of Groningen, affecting laying hens, broilers, and meat turkeys. Also testing positive for the virus were poultry further south — turkeys in Gelderland, broilers in North Brabant, and breeding poultry in Utrecht.

Subsequently, the Netherlands’ agriculture ministry has confirmed the presence of this virus serotype on another farm. Located in the province of Utrecht, this premises had around 121,000 laying hens and pullets.

These latest outbreaks bring the Netherlands’ total so far this winter to 33. Directly impacted have been more than 1.98 million commercial poultry.

Over the past two weeks, Germany’s veterinary authorities have reported to the OIE that more poultry have tested positive for the H5N1 HPAI virus. Affected were a total of almost 59,000 birds of unspecified type at four farms in Lower Saxony, as well as one backyard flock in Saxony-Anhalt.

In the United Kingdom (UK), one of the three most recent HPAI outbreaks occurred in commercial flock comprising around 33,700 meat ducks in the eastern county of Suffolk. Since mid-February, cases have also been detected in a mixed backyard in the same county, and in a small pheasant flock in Herefordshire in the west.

With the OIE the Swedish authorities have recently reported the presence of the H5N1 virus variant in hobby chickens in the southern county of Skåne. 

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New cases in Italy, Portugal, Spain

In province of Seville in Spain’s southernmost region, Andalusia, poultry tested positive for HPAI at five more farms during the last week of February.

These bring the country’s total outbreaks since mid-January to 23. Directly affected have been around 834,000 poultry.

In recent weeks, two backyard poultry flocks have tested positive for HPAI. Although affecting few birds, these outbreaks are significant because they represent the first cases in the southern district of Beja, and in Porto in the north. Since the first cases in November of 2021, all outbreaks were in central districts of the country.

For this season, Italy’s HPAI outbreak total currently stands at 315, according to the national health authority and research organization for animal health and food safety, IZSVe.

Latest of the 22 outbreaks confirmed during 2022 all represent the first cases in their respective provinces. Testing positive for HPAI were one flock of 50,000 broilers in Cuneo in the Piedmont region, and two non-commercial flocks in Como and Cremona. These two provinces are in Lombardy. 

Czech Republic, Poland report new outbreaks in poultry

The Czech Republic is among the European countries registering new cases of HPAI in poultry with the EC in its latest update. With one additional outbreak, the nation’s total so far this year has risen to eight (as of February 25).

As well as the first cases linked to the H5N2 virus, Poland has also registered with the OIE five more H5N1 outbreaks in poultry.

While one was in a small backyard flock, the others were in meat ducks. With each flock comprising between 5,000 and 30,000 birds, two premises were located in each of the central provinces of Greater Poland (Wielkopolskie) and Lodz. 

Sudden spread of HPAI in Europe’s wild birds

For the year to date, HPAI outbreaks in wild birds across Europe reported to the EC animal disease system have reached 1,198 (as of February 25). This represents an increase of 159 compared with the previous update of February 20.

Registering their first infections in a wild bird in 2022 were Estonia, North Macedonia, and Switzerland.

Of the 27 states that have now registered cases through this system, Germany has detected the most outbreaks in wild species (629), followed by the Netherlands (229), and Denmark (64).

Also confirming with the EC new outbreaks since February 20 were Belgium, Croatia, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Sweden.

Other nations whose agencies have notified the OIE about recent new outbreaks in wild birds are Greece, Slovakia, and the U.K.

In Greece, presence of the H5N1 HPAI virus has been linked to the mass mortality of Dalmatian pelicans at a nature park in West Macedonia. Of this, the world’s largest colony of this species, 570 bird died at the end of February.

First case of the same virus serotype has been detected on Jersey. This is according to a recent report to the OIE from the UK. As one of the Channel Islands, Jersey is a self-governing Crown Dependency located in the English Channel.

In Slovakia, six more swans died of the infection, according to the latest official report to the OIE.

Recently, Russia’s veterinary authority reported that the HPAI situation in the Moscow area has been “resolved.” In January, presence of the H5N1 HPAI virus was detected following five cases in swans and geese at a zoo.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.