Europe: freedom from avian flu raises hope of restored exports

Following three earlier outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in poultry flocks, Belgium has regained its official status as free of the disease.

(sharafmaksumov | Bigstock)
(sharafmaksumov | Bigstock)

Following three earlier outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in poultry flocks, Belgium has regained its official status as free of the disease. This raises the prospect of an eventual full restoration of its poultry exports.

Bulgaria, Romania, and two German states have also declared their poultry flocks free of HPAI, while Kosovo and Poland register new cases. Meanwhile, seven European countries have recently announced that the HPAI situation is at least partially closed in their respective wild birds.

Early last week, Belgium regained its status as free of HPAI. 

According to nation’s Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC), Belgium’s international status as free of the disease has been officially confirmed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

In November of 2020 and January of 2021, the country experienced two outbreaks of HPAI at poultry farms, as well as one outbreak linked to a low-pathogenic avian flu virus in December of last year.

Three months after the final cleaning and disinfection procedure at the last premises to be infected — at the end of April — no further cases of the disease had been detected. 

Over the past four months, no further cases of the disease have been detected at commercial premises. 

According to FASFC, strict control and eradication procedures were followed, as set out by the OIE. These include the culling of all birds, as well as cleaning and disinfection of each infected site. Also carried out were an awareness campaign to encourage reporting of any suspected cases, and disease surveillance.

In July, Belgian authorities registered an outbreak of HPAI linked to an H5 virus in a hobby flock of chickens. This was the country’s most recent reported outbreak.

Following the announcement, VILT reported that the Belgian poultry sector is hoping for a return of the country’s previous export success. When the first outbreak was confirmed last year, some of its markets outside the European Union imposed an immediate ban on incoming poultry trade from Belgium. This amounted to around one-third of nation’s total trade in this category. 

Now the country’s poultry sector is hoping for a recovery in its exports, as well as opportunities to trade with new destinations. 

New outbreaks in poultry in Poland, Kosovo

In the second week of August, Poland’s chief veterinary office reported one new outbreak of HPAI in a commercial poultry flock. Presence of the H5N8 virus variant was confirmed in around 112,000 laying hens in the central-eastern province of Mazovia.

Bringing the country’s total outbreaks for this year to 339, these were the first cases of the disease for more than one month.

Since the start of August, the Polish veterinary authority has retrospectively reported 255 HPAI outbreaks in poultry with the OIE. Directly impacted were more than 9.63 million birds in 10 provinces over this period, which covered from the end of March to the end of June.

In the week August 12-18, Kosovo registered 11 new HPAI outbreaks in poultry with the European Commission through its Animal Disease Information System.

As of August 23, 21 HPAI outbreaks linked to the H5N8 virus subtype have occurred in Kosovo, according to European Reference Lab for avian influenza, IZSVe. Of these, two were on farms, and the others affected backyard flocks. 

Three European states declare avian flu resolved in poultry

Earlier this month, Germany’s veterinary authorities declared to the OIE that the HPAI situation regarding the H5N8 virus is closed in the states of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. Since the first cases in November of last year, these states recorded 66 and 10 outbreaks, respectively.

Following just one outbreak involving the H5N5 virus variant during February, Romania has declared to the OIE that the HPAI situation in the country has been “resolved.” The only cases were in a backyard flock of 56 birds in the western county of Timis.

During one week of the same month, four commercial flocks in Bulgaria tested positive for an HPAI virus of the H5 family. Directly affected were more than 320,000 poultry, all in the region of Pleven. As no further cases have been detected since February, the animal health agency has also declared to the OIE that the event is now closed.

Earlier this month, the Czech Republic and Denmark declared the HPAI situation in their respective poultry sectors closed.

New cases in wild birds registered by seven countries

Earlier this month, The Netherlands officially reported the return of the H5N8 HPAI virus to its wild bird population. According to the official report, six wild geese tested positive for this variant. They were found dead in a wetland area in the Utrecht area on August 3. Two weeks later, the Dutch veterinary authority declared the HPAI resolved again.

Also registering new cases linked to this virus subtype over the past two weeks were Finland (three cases), and Norway (one).

Meanwhile, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have reported new cases linked to the H5N1 HPAI virus variant to the OIE. There were six cases in Finland, and one in each other countries. 

Avian flu in wild birds 'resolved' in Germany, Ireland, and Poland

Since the start of the 2020-2021 winter, HPAI viruses of five different types were detected in wild birds across most of German states. Since the spring, numbers of positive birds have declined to the point where the HPAI situation has been officially declared closed to the OIE.

For the H5N8 virus variant, this applies to 14 cities/states — Baden-Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein, and Thuringia. 

At the same time, five of these states declared themselves free of the H5N1, H5N4, and H5N5 variants, and the H5N3 virus subtype has been eliminated in two states. 

During the month of January, two wild birds tested positive for each of the H5N3 and H5N8 virus variants in the Republic of Ireland. With no new cases detected since that time, the Irish animal health agency has declared the situation “resolved.”

In Poland, the H5N8 virus was detected at 92 locations across the country between December of 2020 and June of this year. These included wild birds and non-commercial poultry flocks. In January, one wild bird tested positive for the H5N5 variant, and another for the H5N1 subtype in April. With no further detections, the Polish authorities have declared to the OIE all three disease events closed.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.

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