In France, authorities report a slowing down in highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) affecting the nation’s poultry flocks. However, new cases have been reported in commercial birds in nine other European states, as well as more backyard and wild birds.
Over recent weeks, the incidence of HPAI on the nation’s farms has declined, according to the French agriculture ministry. However, the number confirmed since August 1 of 2022 is now approaching 300.
Around three in four of the outbreaks have been in the western region, Pays de la Loire — particularly in the departments of Vendée (120 outbreaks since August) and Maine-et-Loire (44).
The latest figures from the ministry put the total for confirmed farm outbreaks at 290 (as of February 3). Since the start of the 2022-2023 season, all 11 of the country’s mainland regions have registered at least one outbreak.
Over the past two weeks, the French authorities have officially registered six outbreaks on commercial farms.
Starting over the period January 20-31, these directly impacted a total of around 18,400 poultry, according to the notifications to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH). The northwestern region of Brittany was the location of two of these outbreaks.
Since the country’s first confirmed cases of HPAI linked to the H5N1 virus serotype in November of 2021, 19.81 million birds have been directly impacted by the disease at 1,662 premises.
European poultry outbreaks pass 120
So far in 2023, 129 HPAI outbreaks have been reported in commercial poultry flocks across Europe. This is based on the latest update of the Animal Disease Information System by the European Commission (EC; as of February 5). One or more outbreaks have occurred in 15 countries covered by the EC since the start of the year.
Based on information from the EC, France and Poland have reported the most HPAI outbreaks in poultry so far, each with 40. These are followed by the Czech Republic with 15, and Germany with 10.
Registering their first cases on farms this year have been Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Romania, and Turkey (Türkiye).
More farm outbreaks in 9 European countries
The largest single HPAI outbreak reported to WOAH over the past two weeks was on a farm with 192,000 laying hens in the Scotland’s Dumfries and Galloway region.
This brings the Scottish total outbreaks since October of 2022 to 20. Together with 144 affected premises in England, four in Wales, and one in Northern Ireland, the total for the United Kingdom (U.K.) stands at 169 so far this season.
Since the end of January, Romania’s veterinary authority has registered with WOAH three HPAI outbreaks on large commercial farms. In total, there were a total of more than 223,500 birds on these premises, which appear to be in close proximity in the central Romanian county of Brasov.
Affected were three turkey farms, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. Under the same ownership, the farms shared personnel and vehicles for feed and bird disposal. Within 3km of the index premises, there were seven more poultry farms. Of these, two with broilers have also been depopulated in order to prevent the further spread of the infection.
Romania had previously been free of HPAI in poultry since May of 2022, based on WOAH reports.
Also reporting the first outbreaks of the season were Bulgaria and Slovakia.
During the last week of January, HPAI virus was detected at a farm in the town of Etropole in the Sofia region. Around 25,000 breeding quails and their eggs were scheduled for destruction, according to the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency.
In Slovakia, more than 25% of a mixed poultry flock of 5,665 birds died at the end of last month. Subsequently, presence of the H5N1 HPAI virus was confirmed. At the farm in the western region of Trnava, the rest of the flock was destroyed.
Also registering with WOAH over the past two weeks the recent return of HPAI following a hiatus was a state in central Germany.
In Saxony Anhalt, affected was a turkey farm with around 9,000 birds. This state had been declared free of HPAI in March of 2022.
Authorities in Austria, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands have each notified WPAH about two further HPAI outbreaks among commercial poultry.
There has also been one more outbreak at a farm in the West Flanders region of Belgium. Affected were more than 97,000 turkeys, according to the WOAH notification.
More cases in backyard flocks, captive birds
As of February 5, seven European nations have notified the EC’s System of HPAI cases in “captive birds” since the start of the month. Covering backyard and hobby poultry flocks as well as premises such as zoos, the total stands at 36 across the region for the year so far.
Affected have been 15 locations in France, 14 in Germany, and three in Austria.
While Slovakia and Sweden have reported their first cases in this category for 2023, totals for Hungary and the Netherlands remain unchanged at one each.
To WOAH, the U.K. has reported three new outbreaks in non-commercial poultry flocks. The Czech Republic and Luxembourg have each registered cases in one more backyard flock to the same agency.
Wild bird outbreaks pass 400
So far this year, a total of 431 outbreaks of HPAI have already been registered through the EC’s System by 21 European states (as of February 5).
With 98 outbreaks in this category, Germany has confirmed the most outbreaks, followed by Austria (64), Belgium and France (each with 54), and Denmark (51)
Registering with the EC their first cases in wild birds in 2023 have been Serbia, Slovakia, and Switzerland.
Almost without exception, the virus serotype involved in the continent’s outbreaks since the autumn/fall of 2021 has been the H5N1 variant.
Influenza virus of avian origin confirmed in European mammals
Since December of 2021, nine wild animals (other than birds) have tested positive for the H5N1 HPAI virus in the U.K., according to the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency. Of these, five were red foxes, and four were Eurasian otters. The latest case was a fox found dead in Powys, Wales in January. Previous cases were found at widely dispersed locations from the Scottish Isles to Cornwall in southwest England.
Researchers from Spain have documented in detail for the first time an outbreak of HPAI in farmed mink in the Galicia region.
According to a paper in Eurosurveillance, the first signs were observed in October of 2022. Mortality among the American mink reached 4.3% per week later that month, and continued to rise.
The animals were kept in cages in open-sided barns. Although there were no reports of HPAI in domestic birds in that region of Spain at the time, some wild birds tested positive for the virus. No other mink farms have been reported to be infected.
At the end of last year, increased mortality of seals in the Caspian Sea may be linked to avian influenza virus.
Numbers of seals found dead in part of the Dagestan region varied from 650 to more than 2,000, according to Avian Flu Diary. This infectious disease blog reports that scientists at Dagestan University found evidence of the presence of an influenza virus of avian origin. However, they neither identified the virus as the cause of death, nor the serotype(s) found.
The Eurasian H5N1 clade that has impacted wild birds and poultry over the past two winters has infected several mammal species. These latest findings raise concerns that the virus may more easily infect humans, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. So far, seven cases have been confirmed in humans.
View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.