The 2006 outbreak of the H5N1 highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza (HPAI) in Europe was relatively short-lived but the 2007 ‘wave’ that has hit Hungary, United Kingdom, Germany, Czech Republic and France is becoming a more lengthy and worrying affair.

Two new outbreaks were confirmed in the Pardubiche kraj region (also known as East Bohemia) of the Czech Republic on 11 July. Both were on large chicken farms inside the 3km protection zone thrown up around the Norin outbreak, in which 28,000 birds were lost at the end of June.

Europe battens down against bird flu.

These latest outbreaks at Korsorin and Netreby were even more costly with the loss of over 70,000 birds. According to Czech New Agency (CTK), culling of 55,000 hens at Korsorin and another 17,000 at Netreby was completed by 16 July but the destruction did not stop there: 10,000 turkeys and 55, 000 broilers at Loucky and another 3000 turkeys at Zarecka Lhota – all healthy and within the 3km protection zone – were ear-marked for culling.

Thins became ominous when Czech authorities described the outbreak area in Pardubiche as a hot-bed of infection and predicted eradication would take a lot longer than expected, almost certainly beyond the end of July. More birds were culled at a farm in Chocen, bringing total losses to 200,000 since the first outbreak in turkeys at Tsova on 20 June. Poultry litter on all farms will be disinfected, followed by a 30-day quarantine period.

Clearly expecting the worst, Czech Republic asked the European Commission (EC) to cover a half of the costs of the anti-AI programme in Pardubiche. This request was revealed by Czech Agriculture Minister, Petr Gandalovic, in Brussels on 16 July and reported by CTK.

Like any other European Union (EU) country, Czech Republic is entitled to EC compensation and the money (more than €500,000) will almost certainly be paid, said Gandalovic. He went on to say that Czech Republic will probably not ask for further aid from the EC unless any EU member country closes its market to Czech poultrymeat. Under EC regulations, exports of unprocessed poultrymeat can only be banned from those regions of the Czech Republic with bird flu outbreaks. The ban does not apply to the remainder of the country, said Gandalovic. According to CTK, the EC has been monitoring the situation and is satisfied with measures introduced and undertaken in the outbreak area.

H5N1 in Czech Republic and Germany on its own is bad enough but there are also indications of AI in the Kalingrad region of Russia and threatening the Baltic States. Reports from Lithuania describe large-scale deaths of cormorants on the Russian section of the Curonian Spit, a 98-km sand dune separating the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. The northern 52km stretch is part of Lithuania and the southern 46km part belongs to the Kalingrad Obast in Russia. According to Vakaru Eskpresas newspaper in Klaipeda (Lithuania) it is feared that AI is the cause and that infections could easily move into Lithuania.

Ornithologist, Gediminas Grazulevicus, said there were no signs of an outbreak yet on the Lithuanian side of the border but scientists are clearly worried about bird migration movements that will start in a few weeks time. According to RIA Novosti, Russian scientists have identified H5N1 antibodies in migratory birds in five different regions of Siberia.

Bronius Morkunas, a specialist at the state public health service in Lithuania said cormorants do not usually contract bird flu and therefore doubted claims relating to bird deaths on the Curonian Spit. Although not as susceptible as ducks, swans and geese, seabirds including some great (black) cormorants (Plalacrocorax carbo) were killed by the H5N1 virus at Qinghai Lake (western China) during 2005 and 2006 and at a bird sanctuary in Vietnam.

In a separate development, Eurosurveillance Weekly reported that genetic sequencing of H5N1 viruses in Europe shows those identified in the Czech Republic and Germany during June and July 2007 to be very similar, but differ from those found in Hungary and the United Kingdom in January and February 2007.

Strains isolated from domestic birds in the Czech Republic and wild birds in Germany are more closely related to strains found in the Middle East and western Asia including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Russia, said the Eurosurveillance Weekly report.

European countries continued to feel ‘fall out’ from bird flu. Please see Doors slam on German exports after one pet goose with H5N1. On July 21, the United Arab Emirates banned import of all live birds and poultry products from the Czech Republic. The official WAM news agency said Environment and Water Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Kindi, had issued the ban to prevent the spread of the deadly virus to animals or humans in this Gulf Arab country. Two days earlier, the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture imposed a temporary ban on the import of chickens and eggs from Moselle in Lorraine, France where H5N1 has been identified in wild water fowl (swans).