France struggles to contain avian flu outbreaks

Last year’s disastrous season for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in poultry has already been eclipsed by the current one in France.

On the puzzles there is an inscription - Avian Influenza, on a blue background pills.
On the puzzles there is an inscription - Avian Influenza, on a blue background pills.
(SkazouD | Bigstock)

France has confirmed twice as many outbreaks on poultry farms to date during the 2021-2022 season as it did during the previous season, and the geographical spread is wider.

So far for the 2021-2022 season, total confirmed HPAI outbreaks on French farms have reached 983. This is according to the nation’s agriculture ministry (as on March 23). Compared to eight days previously, the figure has risen by 191.

Furthermore, infections have now spread to three more departments, and to an eighth region — Brittany (Bretagne) in the northwest of the country. With infections confirmed in that region’s departments of Morbihan and Ille-et-Vilaine as well as Lot in Occitania, poultry farms have been hit by the H5N1 HPAI virus serotype in 17 departments since November of last year.

Continuing to be hard hit by the disease are premises with poultry in the Pays de la Loire region in western France. With 113 more confirmed outbreaks over the previous eight days, total for the department of VendĂ©e has reached 451. Nearby departments of Loire atlantique and Maine-et-Loire have now recorded 70 and 63 confirmed outbreaks, respectively.

In the latest notification to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), French authorities outline 268 additional HPAI outbreaks in poultry flocks. All of these began in the two weeks following March 2. A total of more than 3.84 million birds were directly impacted. In the OIE report, the type of bird affected is only specified in about half of the outbreaks, but infected flocks included chickens, turkeys, ducks, or guinea fowl.

Since the season’s first HPAI cases in November of 2021, France has lost almost 8.86 million poultry to HPAI through mortality or culling on infected premises.

In recent weeks, authorities in France have stepped up measures to control the spread of HPAI, particularly in Pays de la Loire.

For comparison, France registered 488 HPAI outbreaks directly impacting more than 2.4 million poultry during the 2020-2021 season. All these were linked to the H5N8 virus variant that was circulating widely in Europe at the time.

Europe’s HPAI outbreaks in poultry approach 1,000

As of March 19, 18 European countries had registered one or more outbreaks in poultry so far this year. This is according to the latest update of the Animal Disease Information System by the European Commission (EC). Up to that date, the system has a total of 994 outbreaks for the year.

With a sudden spike in reported outbreaks up to that date, France accounts for 806 or more than 80% of the region’s total. Next come Spain with 30, Hungary (29), Poland (28), Spain (25), and the Netherlands and Germany (each with 24).

Registering with the EC new outbreaks of HPAI in poultry over the previous two weeks were the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Poland, and Spain.

During the whole of 2021, 24 European states reported a total of 1,756 HPAI outbreaks in poultry to the EC.

Albania detects H5N8 HPAI virus variant

Almost without exception, the H5N1 HPAI virus serotype has been detected at the location of each outbreak. However, the H5N8 variant was recently detected at a large farm in Albania. 

Around 3,000 of the 132,600 poultry at the premises in the county of Durres died in mid-March. The rest of the flock has been destroyed. The Republic is located in southern Europe, and Durres lies on the Mediterranean coast.

Further outbreaks in poultry in six European states

Over the past week, veterinary authorities of Germany and Romania have each registered with the OIE one new outbreak of HPAI. Both affected premises were commercial farms, and presence of the H5N1 virus serotype was reported.

Affected by the Romanian outbreak in mid-March was a flock of around 34,000 poultry in Giurgiu. Located in the south of the country, this county borders Bulgaria. Confirmed a few days later was the German outbreak. It involved a flock comprising about 1,800 poultry of unspecified type in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Progress in the spread of HPAI in Italy has slowed markedly in recent weeks. Just one new outbreak has been notified to the OIE. This affected a small backyard flock in the province of Florence in Tuscany.

Meanwhile, another HPAI outbreak has been confirmed in the Netherlands. Affected last week was a backyard mixed flock in Lunteren in Gelderland, according to the agriculture ministry.

Located in the central-east of the country, this province has been the location of several previous outbreaks this year. Movement restrictions were already in place as a result. While it is a center for poultry production, the authorities have made an exception to the policy of preventative culling at all poultry premises within 3 kilometers of the outbreak. As a non-commercial flock, the ministry explains that the affected flock poses little risk to nearby farms. However, they have imposed a rigorous sampling process on premises with poultry within a 10-km radius of Lunteren.

Earlier this month, the Czech Republic’s veterinary administration reported the detection of HPAI in a backyard flock. Located in the Central Bohemia (Stredocesky) region, the premises had 184 birds of various species, all of which were culled. This brought to nine the number of H5N1 outbreaks in the country this year, according to this source.

No longer a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom (U.K.) is not covered by the EC information system.

Over the past two weeks, two new HPAI outbreaks have been reported by the agriculture department, Defra. Both of these were in Scotland. In addition, to the OIE, the U.K. authorities have confirmed two more outbreaks at commercial farms in the eastern English county of Suffolk, as well as in one in a backyard flock in eastern Scotland.

Data from Defra put the total number of HPAI in the U.K. so far this season at 106.

Outbreaks in wild birds pass 1,400

For the year to date, HPAI outbreaks in wild birds across Europe reported to the EC animal disease system have reached 1,406 (as of March 19). This represents an increase of 144 compared with the previous update of March 6, with half of the latest cases registered by Germany. 

Greece has recorded its first outbreaks in the wild bird population in 2022, so 28 states that have now registered cases through this system this year.

Germany has detected the most outbreaks in wild species (727), followed by the Netherlands (276), and Denmark (74). Also confirming with the EC new outbreaks since March 6 were Austria, Belgium, Republic of North Macedonia, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland.

In France, the number of cases of HPAI this season has increased by three, according to the country’s agriculture ministry. This brings to 39 the total number of confirmed outbreaks in the country since the start of winter. Cases are widespread across 22 departments.

For the first time in 11 months, an H5 HPAI virus has been detected in the Astrakhan region of Russia. In mid-March, nine Dalmatian pelicans found dead near a body of water tested positive for the virus, according to a recent OIE notification.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.

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