Italy, Netherlands record season’s first avian flu cases in poultry

The first highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) cases of the 2021-2022 season have been reported in Italian and Dutch poultry flocks.

(kolesnikov, Bigstock)
(kolesnikov, Bigstock)

The first highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) cases of the 2021-2022 season have been reported in Italian and Dutch poultry flocks.

In mid-October, the presence of an H5 HPAI virus was detected in the northeastern region of Veneto, Italy, according to the national reference lab for avian influenza, IZSVe. Affected was a flock in the province of Verona comprising around 13,000 fattening turkeys, which were destined for culling and destruction. Indirect contact with infected wild birds was thought to be the source of infection as the farm was located near to a hunting area.

Within one week, and as a result of additional surveillance near the original outbreak, around 12,000 male meat turkeys at a nearby farm tested positive for the same virus. When mortality spiked at another nearby farm, the virus was detected in 32,000 turkeys there.

On October 27, H5N1 virus was found at a fourth farm in the same area. It is operated by the same company as the initial outbreak. When tested previously, the result was negative, but the birds tested positive a week later after morality spiked. Around 13,000 12-week-old female turkeys at the premises were scheduled for destruction.

According to official reports received so far by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), a total of just over 69,000 turkeys in the same municipality have been directly impacted by the outbreaks in Italy so far. The virus involved belongs to the clade 2.3.4.4b. Cleaning and disinfection at each of the affected farms are ongoing.

Italy had been free of HPAI since May of this year.

Earlier in October, a low-pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) virus of the same family was detected for the first time this season in the neighboring Italian region of Emilia-Romagna.

H5N1 HPAI detected in Dutch organic layer flock

Last week, veterinary authorities in The Netherlands reported to the OIE that around 35,300 hens near Zeewolde in Flevoland tested positive for an H5N1 HPAI virus. The flock was scheduled for immediate culling.

This was the first HPAI outbreak in the country since early July, according to the OIE notification.

Within the 3-km Protection Zone around the farm, there were six other premises with poultry. At the time of reporting, all had tested negative for HPAI.

Flevoland is a central province in the former Zuiderzee.

Immediately after the outbreak was confirmed, the Dutch agriculture ministry imposed a housing order on all commercial poultry across the country. In the north of the country and in a neighboring region of Germany found dead have also tested positive for HPAI. Owners of all other poultry — such as hobby farmers, zoos, and petting zoos — are obliged to keep their birds away from contact with wild species.

All transportation of poultry has been halted within a 10-km radius of the Zeewolde farm. This directly impacts a further nine premises with poultry.

Within days of the original outbreak, around 9,500 poultry were culled at a farm in Barneveld. It emerged that a visitor to one of its poultry houses had previously been at the Zeewolde site. The ministry explained that the precautionary cull was justified as there are 277 holdings with poultry within 10km of Barneveld, which is located in the province of Gelderland.

In a rapidly developing situation, the Dutch agriculture ministry announced on October 30 that an H5 avian flu virus had been detected at a broiler farm in North Holland. HPAI is suspected. Affected was a flock of 107,000 birds that will also be culled. The premises is located in Grootschermer in the municipality of Alkmaar. Authorities are closely monitoring the only other poultry premises within 10km of the known outbreak.

Avian flu situation in poultry elsewhere in Europe

As of October 23, a total of 1,192 HPAI outbreaks in poultry had been reported by 19 European states so far this year. This is according to the latest update of the Animal Disease Information System of the European Commission (EC).

Just four states had registered new outbreaks since September. These include the Czech Republic (with a total of 38 outbreaks in 2021), Kosovo (21), Italy (4), and Estonia (3).

To the OIE, Estonia’s animal health agency has reported its first HPAI outbreak of the winter season. In the last week of October, a backyard flock of just four birds tested positive for the H5N8 virus variant. 

At the end of September, one HPAI outbreak linked to the H5N1 virus group was registered in the Czech Republic. Affecting a backyard flock, these were the country’s first cases since May of 2021.

For comparison, 16 European states reported a total of 442 HPAI in poultry to the EC in 2020.

According to the latest update from the Czech Republic’s state veterinary service, a commercial poultry flock of around 5,000 birds has tested positive for an LPAI virus. At the affected premises in the central region of Vysocina, all the birds — breeding and meat geese, meat ducks, and broilers — will be culled. 

Vysocina borders the Central Bohemian region, where a highly pathogenic form of H5N1 was detected in a backyard flock at the end of September.

Overview of HPAI in European wild birds

So far this year, 29 countries in Europe have registered a total of 1,733 HPAI outbreaks in wild birds with the EC (as of October 23). In 2020, the total was 756 outbreaks in 13 of the region’s states.

Over the past week, four states have notified the OIE of their first cases of HPAI in wild birds of the season.

For the Republic of Serbia, these represented the country’s first ever detections of the H5N1 and H5N2 virus variants.

In mid-October, the droppings of wild water birds at two locations in Southern Denmark tested positive for the H5N1 virus variant, according to the veterinary authority’s official notification.

In the United Kingdom (U.K.), H5N1 HPAI virus has been detected at a wild bird rescue center in Worcestershire in the West Midlands of England. Symptoms and mortality were observed in young swans that had been rescued, as well as in captive geese, ducks, and chickens. In total, 49 birds at the center died or were culled as they showed symptoms of the disease.

Also following a brief hiatus, Sweden reports its first cases of wild birds testing positive for H5N8 HPAI. Affected were 10 Canada geese found dead in the southeastern county of Ă–stergötland in mid-October.

To the OIE, Romania has recently reported the earlier H5N5 HPAI outbreak series as “resolved.” More than 30 wild swans at eight locations in the south-east of the country tested positive for this virus variant between January and April of 2021. No cases have been detected since that time.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.

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