Italy records more than 200 avian flu outbreaks in poultry

While the situation seems to be the most severe in Italy, numerous European nations are reporting outbreaks of avian influenza.

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With more than 200 confirmed outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in poultry, Italy continues to be the European country most affected by the disease this winter. However, eight more nations in the region have also officially registered further cases in commercial birds.

Since the start of this month, 10 European states have registered new outbreaks in their respective poultry sectors. This is according to the latest update of the Animal Disease Information System of the European Commission (EC; as of December 12). 

By that date, a total of 1,516 HPAI outbreaks in poultry had been reported to the EC by 22 European states. This is an increase of 73 over the previous 7 days.

For comparison, a total of 442 outbreaks of HPAI in poultry were registered through the EC system in 2020. In that year, cases were reported by 16 states, and Hungary was the worst affected (273 outbreaks).

In 2021, France has registered the highest number of outbreaks in poultry (476), although almost all of these were confirmed in the first half of the year. Also confirming new outbreaks over the past week have been Poland (now with 377 outbreaks so far this year), Germany (238), Italy (193), and the Czech Republic and Hungary (each with 43).

Italy’s outbreaks exceed 200

Since the country’s first outbreak of the winter was confirmed on October 19, Italy’s total outbreaks has risen to 207. This is according to nation’s health authority and research organization for animal health and food safety, IZSVe (as of December 13). 

At each location, presence of an H5 HPAI virus has been detected. For most of the affected premises, this has been identified as the H5N1 serotype. So far, disease outbreaks have been centered on the region of Veneto, but cases have also been confirmed in Lombardy and Brescia, as well as isolated outbreaks in Rome (Lazio) and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Earlier this month, the first cases were reported in Emilia Romagna.

With few exceptions, outbreaks have hit large commercial poultry units. Laying hens, broilers, meat turkeys, and other poultry types have all been affected. 

Latest official report from the Italian veterinary authority to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) puts the number of birds directly impacted by HPAI so far at more than 10.12 million.

United Kingdom records largest ever HPAI outbreak

“This is now the largest ever outbreak of avian influenza across these islands, with 52 cases across the United Kingdom, and five cases in the Republic of Ireland,” said Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister Edwin Poots on December 14.

HPAI H5N1 has been confirmed at 49 locations in Great Britain since October. Infected have been backyards and commercial farms with well over 100,000 poultry.

Making up the total for Great Britain have been 42 outbreaks in England, four in Scotland, and three in Wales. 

In Northern Ireland, there have been two confirmed H5N1 outbreaks in poultry, and two more are suspected, according to the agriculture department, DAERA.

As of the same date, the same virus serotype has been confirmed at five commercial poultry farms in the Irish Republic. In some of these cases, the disease control zones extend into Northern Ireland, according to Poots.

First H5N1 outbreaks detected in poultry in Belgium, Hungary, Portugal

Over the past week, these three states have officially registered their first HPAI outbreaks in poultry with the OIE.

For Belgium, these represent the first cases in poultry since July of this year. Infections were confirmed in the first week of December at two chicken farms — firstly in West Flanders, and then in the Antwerp area. Involving more than 65,000 birds in total, the source of infection is attributed to contact with wild birds. 

In the south-east of Hungary, the county of Bekes had been HPAI-free since April of this year. However, earlier this week, the veterinary authority has reported to the OIE three outbreaks over the past month. These have directly affected more than 13,700 poultry. 

There have also been nine more outbreaks in the southern county of Back-Kiskun, bringing to 25 the number of confirmed outbreaks there so far this winter. 

At the end of November, the first ever cases of HPAI were detected in Portugal. Affected was a mixed hobby flock of 79 birds, including 60 chickens in the western region of Setubal. Source of infection was likely to have been wild birds, according to the official report. With no further cases in the meanwhile, Portuguese authorities have declared the disease situation “resolved” to the OIE. 

Four European states register new outbreaks in poultry

Over the past week, Poland’s animal health agency has reported nine new HPAI outbreaks in poultry to the OIE. Affecting more than 123,000 birds in total, all these latest outbreaks were on commercial farms with meat ducks, breeding ducks, meat turkeys, or in mixed flocks. Eight of the affected premises were in Greater Poland, and one in Mazovia. Both provinces are in central Poland.

These latest outbreaks bring to 33 the number of confirmed H5N1 outbreaks in Poland so far this winter. More than 1.11 million birds have been directly involved in these outbreaks.

In the winter of 2020-2021, more than 400 HPAI outbreaks occurred in France. Caused by the H5N8 virus variant, losses of poultry were concentrated mainly in the duck and goose flocks in the southwest of the country. 

In contrast, the H5N1 serotype has been detected in the five French outbreaks so far this winter, and all have been in Nord. Located in the north of the country, this department borders Belgium. 

Up to December 6, the veterinary authority has registered with the OIE the involvement of almost 199,000 poultry in these outbreaks. All have occurred near to Dunkirk.

In recent days, cases of HPAI linked to the H5N1 virus have been reported to the OIE in three states of Germany. These include the first cases of the winter at a farm with more than 31,000 meat turkeys in centrally located Saxony-Anhalt. In neighboring Thuringia, there has been one new outbreak affecting around 2,300 meat geese, while a small backyard flock has tested positive for the same virus variant in Schleswig-Holstein.

Reporting to the OIE in the past week that HPAI has been resolved was Denmark. This followed a single outbreak at a turkey farm in Zealand at the end of October.

Developments in the avian flu situation in Russia

Disease events in Russia are not monitored through the EC notification system.

After a six-month hiatus, HPAI has returned to the Stavropol region, which is located in the North Caucasus federal district of Russia. A virus of the H5 family was detected in a flock of around 213,000 poultry at the start of December. 

The Russian authorities have retrospectively registered with the OIE another outbreak linked to the same virus family in a backyard flock. The entire flock of 42 birds was killed by the disease in the Orenburg region, which is in the Volga federal district.

Meanwhile, Russian authorities have declared the HPAI situation “resolved” in two districts. For the Republic of Bashkortostan — also in the Volga district — this followed two farm outbreaks in early in October. 

Around the same time, the only H5 HPAI outbreak in the Belgorod region of the Central district was reported to the OIE. Affected was a backyard flock of 43 ducks.  

In the country’s wild bird population, one individual has tested positive for an H5 HPAI virus in the Volga River Basin and Rostov region.

HPAI outbreak total in European wild birds passes 2,200

So far this year, 31 countries in Europe have registered a total of 2,248 HPAI outbreaks in wild birds with the EC (as of December 12). For comparison, a total of 756 outbreaks in 13 of the region’s states were registered with the EC over the whole of 2020.

The present count is 62 more than the total on December 5. Since the start of December, 15 states have confirmed one or more cases of HPAI in wild birds through this notification system. These were Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, the Irish Republic, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, and the U.K.

In addition, Croatia has reported to the OIE its first ever cases of H5N1 HPAI in wild birds to the OIE. Nine birds have tested positive for this virus at four locations since mid-November.

Finally, at the start of November, the same virus variant was detected for the first time in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Just one bird tested positive for the virus. As no further cases have been discovered since then, the national veterinary authority has also declared to the OIE that the disease situation is now resolved. 

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.

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