Biosecurity breaches blamed for Japan’s avian flu outbreaks

An official survey of poultry farms in Japan hit by highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) revealed most had issues with their structure that allowed the entry of wild birds or rodents.

(NikD51, Bigstock)
(NikD51, Bigstock)

Inspections by agriculture ministry officials of some of the Japanese poultry farms affected by highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) since last year reveal that the majority had defects that allowed wild birds and other animals to enter the buildings.

Holes in the roof or walls were found in 90% of the poultry houses, reports Japan Times. Of the 30 farms inspected, the remaining three premises had evidence of rodent activity. Furthermore, disinfection procedures were judged as inadequate at two-thirds of the farms.

Since the first outbreak linked to the H5N8 HPAI virus in early November 2020, the ministry says that around 6.2 million birds have been culled — a record high number for one season.

According to the same source, research at Kagoshima University could explain why the current outbreak is causing such high losses of poultry. It appears that infected birds live longer, thus having a longer period to spread this latest virus than in previous outbreak series.

There have been 41 primary HPAI outbreaks in Japanese poultry flocks so far this winter season, according to the latest update from the ministry of agriculture.

Japanese outbreak total exceeds 50

Over the past week, the ministry has officially registered a further two outbreaks. According to the latest report to the World Organisation for Animal Health, the H5N8 virus variant was detected in a layer flock of 1.15 million hens in Isumi city (Chiba prefecture), and at a farm with 34,000 broiler chickens in Satsuma (Kagoshima).

These bring the total number of poultry impacted by the virus this season in Japan to 7.316 million, based on the OIE reports. Infections have been confirmed at 51 premises, a figure that includes primary outbreaks and those epidemiologically inked to them.

Outbreaks in South Korea further push up poultry prices

Like Japan, South Korea has also been struggling to control the spread of the H5N8 HPAI virus in its poultry flocks since November of 2020.

The latest report to the OIE from the agriculture ministry identifies 14 new outbreaks in January. More than 2.2 million poultry were directly involved in these outbreaks, which were located in five provinces.

Ten of these latest outbreaks were in commercial egg flocks of 29,000 to 602,000 hens. These and previous outbreaks among laying hens have pushed up egg prices to 43% higher than a year ago, reports Yonhap news agency.

Earlier this month, authorities announced a temporary suspension of import tariffs on eggs and egg product imports into South Korea. The move aimed to ensure adequate supplies.

Prior to the Lunar New Year holiday later his month, 20 million eggs will be imported, according to the news agency. This will be followed by a further 24 million after the festivities

HPAI has also impacted broiler, duck and turkey flocks. Losses of birds in these sectors have pushed up retail prices of chicken meat by 16% and duck by 36% year-on-year.

In South Korea, all poultry are culled within a three-kilometer radius of a confirmed HPAI outbreak. Agriculture ministry figures cited by the news agency put the country’s total culled so far at 25.4 million birds.

Based on OIE data, there have so far been 80 confirmed HPAI outbreaks among South Korean poultry, directly involving more than 7.4 million birds.

HPAI returns to Nepal

For the first time since September of 2019, HPAI has been detected in a poultry flock in Nepal.

According to a recent official report to the OIE, the H5N8 virus variant was detected after a spike in mortality in a large backyard flock in Bagmati province in late January. The outbreak was in the district that includes the country’s largest city, Kathmandu. Remaining 2,500 birds in the mixed flock have been culled.

The official report includes the observation that wild birds had been seen in the area, indicating that these may have been the source of infection.

India confirms HPAI in new areas

Over the past week, India’s agriculture ministry has officially confirmed HPAI infections in poultry in two more states.

According to the latest reports to the OIE, the H5N1 virus variant was detected in a backyard flock in the western state of Gujarat at the start of this year. In mid-January, a large backyard flock in Chhattisgarh in central India tested positive for the H5N8 HPAI virus.

Furthermore, the same virus subtype has been confirmed at a sixth farm in Kerala, which is in the southwest of India. In Maharashtra, poultry at a small farm have tested positive for the H5N1 HPAI virus — a second outbreak for this western state.

A recent report from NDTV put the number of HPAI-related mortalities in Maharashtra at more than 20,000 birds since January 8. Of the 94 latest deaths, 63 were in poultry.

According to the state government, the death rate is beginning to decline. So far, more than 72,000 poultry have been culled in the infected zones. In addition, 44,600 eggs and 63 metric tons of feed have been destroyed.

First HPAI outbreak of the year for Taiwan

The Council of Agriculture has registered with the OIE Taiwan’s first HPAI outbreak of 2021.

Almost 1,700 birds out of a flock of around 9,200 native chickens died in Pingtung county in mid-January. After the presence of the H5N5 HPAI was confirmed, the rest of the flock was culled.

Since this virus strain arrived in September of 2019, the number of outbreaks in Taiwan has risen to 58.

HPAI virus detected in more Asian wild birds

Over the past week, small numbers of wild birds have tested positive for the H5N8 HPAI virus in China and Hong Kong.

Also according to the latest OIE reports, the same virus subtype has been detected in 44 more wild birds of various species at 42 locations in South Korea. This virus was first detected in the country in November of last year.

In India, the H5N1 HPAI variant has been detected for the first time in the northern state of Punjab.

Recent research in the U.S. used diagnostic testing data from a 2018 Minnesota low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) outbreak in turkeys to estimate the time of virus introduction. This could help improve future tracing efforts and prevent the spread of disease.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.

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