In France — the European nation worst hit by highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak since last autumn — the disease situation is reported to be improving.

This is the latest assessment from the country’s agriculture ministry. As of May 6, the number of confirmed outbreaks since November of 2021 stood at 1,374, according to officials, and 16 million poultry have been slaughtered to control the spread of infection. Of these, 11 million were in the Grand-Ouest region. In the northwest of France, this includes the centers of poultry production in the departments of Pays de la Loire and Brittany.

The disease risk is maintained at “high” in 19 departments, as well as in limited areas elsewhere where there are particular risk factors. For the rest of France, the ministry has reduced the alert level to “moderate.” In these areas, poultry need no longer be kept housed, transport restrictions are lifted, and poultry gatherings may take place.

According to the ministry, restocking of poultry farms has already started in Landes in the southwestern region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. As long as the disease situation remains favorable, flocks will be restored in Grand-Ouest from June 1, but this will be done gradually, and by bird type.

As the nation’s farmed waterfowl have been hit hard by HPAI for a second consecutive year, France is exploring the use of vaccines to control the disease. However, no vaccine is currently available for use in ducks and geese. With the support of poultry professionals and under veterinary supervision, a trial is now underway of two candidate vaccines in areas at the center of French waterfowl farming. 

Outbreak total in European poultry approaches 1,600

As of May 6, 1,580 HPAI outbreaks have been registered across Europe so far in 2022. This is according to the latest update of the Animal Disease Information System by the European Commission (EC), and it includes one or more outbreaks in 19 European countries over this period. Iceland is the latest state to record cases in poultry this year.

As more outbreaks are confirmed, the figure draws ever closer to the total of 1,756 outbreaks registered with the EC by 24 European states during the whole of 2021.

Of the 54 new outbreaks recorded since the previous update on April 29, the highest increase — 29 — was recorded in Hungary. Registering an increase of 17 over the week, France remains as the worst-affected country in Europe, now with a total of 1,282 outbreaks.

With its total of 94, Hungary has registered Europe’s second highest outbreak total for 2022 so far. Next comes the Netherlands with 35. 

HPAI eases in western Europe

Over the period April 11 to May 2, a further 18 outbreaks of HPAI linked to the H5N1 virus serotype were officially registered in France. This is according to the latest notification from the French veterinary agency to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Affecting a total of around 69,000 poultry, all the new outbreaks were on farms. Located in four regions of the country, these flocks varied in size from 864 to more than 18,000 birds. Poultry type was generally not specified. Among these outbreaks was the first case in the department of Charente, which is in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in the south-west. 

The latest update from the French agriculture ministry (dated May 13) puts the total number of confirmed outbreaks on the country’s farms at 1,381, as well as affecting 34 backyard flocks. These totals are 17 and 4 more, respectively, than on May 2.

Over the past week, Portugal’s animal health agency has declared to the OIE that HPAI has been “resolved” across the country. This followed a total of 19 outbreaks linked to the H5N1 virus variant across several districts between December and March. Of these, seven involved commercial farms, while the others affected backyards and wild birds.

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In the United Kingdom (U.K.), one further outbreak linked to the same virus serotype has been reported in Nottinghamshire. Last week, this was confirmed by the agriculture department, Defra. It brings to 97 the number of confirmed outbreaks in England since the start of last winter, and 43 across the whole of the U.K. in 2022. 

Spike in avian flu cases in central Europe

Over a 10-day period, Hungary’s veterinary authority notified the OIE about a further 36 outbreaks of HPAI on poultry farms. 

Of these, 29 were in the southern county of Bacs-Kiskun, and six in neighboring Csongrad-Csanad. With the first cases in Szabolcs-Szatmar-Bereg, the infection has spread to the north-east of Hungary. The overwhelming majority of the farms affected have been ducks or geese for fattening or foie-gras production, as well as some breeding flocks. While the largest recent outbreak involved 140,000 ducks, the H5N1 virus has also been detected in two flocks of laying hens and one of meat turkeys.

The recent spread of the H5N1 HPAI virus in Hungary has been rapid. Cases have been detected in four counties since mid-April. Meanwhile, losses of poultry through mortality or culling since that time have already passed 1.84 million, based on OIE reports.

Also registering a recent increase in HPAI outbreaks is Bulgaria. The virus involved has not been typed, according to OIE notifications, but the disease has now been discovered in another province. Latest to be affected is Gabrovo in central Bulgaria. There, two commercial flocks — one of broiler chickens and one of Pekin ducks — were hit by the infection at the start of May. Meanwhile, three further outbreaks have been confirmed on farms in the north of Bulgaria, in Pleven. 

Since early April, 13 outbreaks have been officially reported by Bulgaria to the OIE. Including one backyard flock, these have affected more than 531,000 poultry in five provinces. 

Both Bulgaria and Hungary also experienced widespread HPAI outbreaks in poultry earlier in the winter of 2021-2022.

Meanwhile, the HPAI situation in Romania is now considered closed by the nation’s veterinary authorities. During the month of March, two poultry flocks — one commercial and one backyard — tested positive for the H5N1 virus variant in one southern county. Since then, no further cases have been reported to the OIE.

Rising HPAI cases in European wild birds

For the year to date, HPAI outbreaks in wild birds across Europe reported to the EC notification system have reached 1,694 (as of May 6).

This represents an increase of 61 compared with the previous week. Of these, 44 were reported by Germany, which accounts for 861 or around half of the region’s total.

Also confirming with the EC new outbreaks over the previous seven days were Austria, Finland, Greece, Iceland, the Netherlands, and Norway.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.