Over the past week, the number of confirmed highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks on French farms has passed 1,100 for the 2021-2022 season.

According to the French agriculture ministry, the total had reached 1,112 (as of March 31). Over the previous six days, the outbreak figure had risen by 129. In addition, cases have been observed in three more backyard flocks, bringing the total in this category to 22.

In the previous winter season, HPAI hit the French poultry sector hard. However, the circulating virus serotype last year belonged to the H5N8 family, and it appeared to affect particularly duck and goose farms in the southwest of France.

This year, however, the H5N1 virus variant is responsible for the infections, and it has been detected in eight of the 13 regions in mainland France. While the type of poultry at each premises is not always specified, it appears that the infections are not confined to waterfowl. In recent weeks, farms in the western region of Pays de la Loire that is currently bearing the brunt of the virus onslaught.

The latest official report from the French authorities outline 130 new outbreaks directly impacting more than 2.06 million poultry. This is according to the latest notification to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). They bring to more than 10.9 million the number of commercial poultry in France affected by HPAI since November of 2021. 

Europe’s HPAI outbreaks in poultry pass 1,100

As of March 26, 18 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 1,134 outbreaks for the year.

As ever more cases in the country are detected, France now accounts for 938 outbreaks. This is around 83% of all outbreaks in Europe recorded through this system. With 31 outbreaks, Spain has registered the next highest total for the year so far. Meanwhile, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland have each confirmed between 23 and 29 HPAI outbreaks already in 2022.

During the whole of 2021, 1,756 outbreaks in poultry were registered with the EC by 24 European states.

Other countries reporting new poultry outbreaks

Over the past 10 days, the veterinary authority in the United Kingdom (U.K.) has registered three more HPAI outbreaks on farms. These involved around 196,000 poultry in total — comprising one flock each of laying ducks and meat ducks in the east of England, and another of laying hens in Scotland.

Based on information from the U.K. agriculture department, Defra, these bring the outbreak total so far this season to 109, including 89 in various parts of England.

Meanwhile, HPAI of the same virus subtype has hit two more farms in Spain. The OIE report outlines new cases on two farms in the Seville area in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia. They bring to 31 the country’s outbreaks in total over the past three months.

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At the end of March, HPAI was detected on a chicken farm in the West Flanders province of Belgium. Presence of the H5N1 virus was confirmed in the flock of around 18,800 birds, almost 200 of which died.

In Bulgaria, an unidentified strain on HPAI has hit a fifth poultry premises this season. Like the other previous locations, the affected farm is located in the central-southern province of Plovdiv.

Recently, around 150 of the 177,440 laying hens at a farm near Asenovgrad died, according to the OIE notification. This is the third HPAI outbreak at this owner’s farm since 2019, reports the national food safety authority. Until this latest outbreak, no new cases had been detected in Bulgaria since early December.

OIE has also been notified of new infections in non-commercial flocks by the veterinary agencies of Denmark, Germany, and Albania. Only in the Albanian outbreaks have poultry tested positive for the H5N8 virus variant.

Within a few days earlier this year, four large commercial turkey flocks were infected with HPAI in the Stravropol region of Russia’s North Caucasus federal district. All the affected premises were operated by the same company, AgroPlus, and were located in the same district. Of the total 186,600 birds, 174,000 died, and the rest have been destroyed. According to the latest OIE notification, the Russian authorities now consider this outbreak resolved. 

HPAI in Europe’s wild bird population

For the year to date, HPAI outbreaks in wild birds across Europe reported to the EC animal disease system have reached 1,467 (as of March 26). This represents an increase of 61 compared with the previous update on March 19. Just over half of these were in Germany.

Albania has recorded its first outbreaks in the wild bird population in 2022 to the EC, so 29 states that have now registered cases through this system this year.

Germany has detected the most outbreaks in wild species (760), followed by the Netherlands (286), and Denmark (76). Also confirming with the EC new outbreaks over the previous week were Austria, Estonia, Finland, France, the Irish Republic, Romania, Spain, and Sweden.

For comparison, 31 European countries registered with the EC a total of 2,437 HPAI outbreaks in wild birds during 2021.

Since the country left the EU, the EC has ceased monitoring the disease situation in Great Britain. However, the animal health agency has registered with the OIE a further 129 cases of HPAI in wild species.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.