France confirms season’s first avian flu cases in poultry

The French agriculture ministry raised the risk level for the disease from negligible to moderate.

Avian Flu Notebook
Alena Ozihilevich | Bigstock

Reporting the first outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) of the autumn/fall in their respective poultry flocks over the past week have been France, Croatia, and two regions of Germany. While France reports progress in its poultry vaccination program, six other European nations have confirmed further cases in their domestic birds.

As a result of this and the growing number of cases in wild and domestic birds across Europe, the French agriculture ministry raised the risk level for the disease from “negligible” to “moderate” at the end of November.

The affected premises is a turkey farm in Morbihan, a department in the northwestern region of Brittany, according to an official notification to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH). Almost all of the 3,850 birds at the farm showed signs of the disease, and 11 died. The rest of the flock has been destroyed. The presence of an HPAI virus of the H5 family has been confirmed.

The ministry links this outbreak to wild birds, as an infected gull was found near to the farm just a few weeks before. It also refers to additional recent cases in wild birds in the northeastern region of Grand Est.

Raising of the risk assessment level by the agriculture ministry in France requires greater attention to disease control measures for poultry. Among these is the mandatory sheltering of poultry in areas designated as at high of contact with wild species, as well as for domestic ducks where there are many poultry farms. Furthermore, vehicles transporting ducks and geese muct now be covered, and there are some restrictions on both hunting and gatherings involving poultry and other birds.  

At the start of October, mandatory HPAI vaccination of selected poultry commenced in France.

During the first month of the campaign, the ministry reports that more than 4.8 million ducks had received their first vaccine doses. The program was being rolled out across 10 regions of the country — mainly in the western regions of Pays de la Loire (over 2 million birds vaccinated) and Nouvelle Aquitaine (around 1.5 million).

Also notifying WOAH about the return of HPAI in commercial birds in recent days have been two north German states.

Following a seven-month hiatus, the H5N1 HPAI virus was detected again in poultry in Lower Saxony. Presence of the virus was confirmed after more than 400 of the 23,615 turkeys at a farm there in late November.  

Around the same time, some of the 3,900 laying hens at a premises in Schleswig-Holstein tested positive for the same virus serotype after 40 birds died. 

Europe’s poultry farm outbreak total approaches 450

So far this year, 443 outbreaks of HPAI in commercial poultry have been confirmed in 23 countries. This is according to the latest update of the Animal Disease Information System from the European Commission (EC; as of November 26). The body monitors the disease situation in European Union (EU) member states and neighboring countries. The total includes two outbreaks in Turkey (Tűrkiye) and one in the French overseas territory of Reunion, although these territories are regarded lie outside the continent of Europe.

For comparison, 24 nations registered a total of 2,321 outbreaks in commercial poultry flocks through this system during 2022.

Since the EC’s previous update on November 17, a first outbreak of 2023 has been registered by Croatia. Further outbreaks have been confirmed in Hungary (24), Germany (2), and Denmark (1).

For this year, the nation with the highest total continues to be France, although the figure of 152 remains unchanged since mid-July. With 113, Hungary currently has the next highest total, followed by Poland (62).

As well as Croatia, France and Germany, veterinary agencies of five other European states have registered with WOAH new outbreaks of HPAI in their commercial poultry.

Confirming the most new outbreaks over the past week has been Hungary, with eight further farms affected in four different regions. There are four additional outbreaks in Bulgaria, three in Italy, and one each in Denmark and The Netherlands.

The EC does not monitor the disease situation in the United Kingdom (U.K.) through its Information System. However, the government’s agriculture department, Defra has confirmed three further outbreaks in poultry — one each in Orkney, Northumberland, and Devon.

Further outbreaks in Dutch, German captive birds

To November 26, 15 European countries have together registered a total of 96 outbreaks of HPAI in captive birds through the EC’s system. This category covers non-commercial poultry flocks, and birds other than poultry, such as zoos.

Compared with the EC’s update on November 17, the total has risen by three. Two were in The Netherlands — one in each of the provinces North Holland and South Holland — and one in the central German state of Thuringia. 

More cases in wild birds across Europe

As of November 26, a total of 3,425 HPAI outbreaks had been registered in 28 states of the EU member and adjacent states, according to the EC System. Since the previous update dated November 17, the total had risen by 51.

For comparison, 3,245 outbreaks were confirmed in 33 of the region’s nations during 2022.

According to the EC, Germany continues to be the state with the most outbreaks (1,084 for the year to date), followed by France (404).

In addition to Germany, also registering new cases of HPAI in wild birds with the EC over the previous 8 days were Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, and Slovenia.

Furthermore, animal health agencies of three European countries confirmed new cases in wild birds to WOAH. These were Romania, Sweden, and the U.K.

While the overwhelming majority of infections in Europe have been linked to the H5N1 virus serotype, one individual bird in Germany and the U.K. has been reported over the past week to have tested positive for the H5N5 variant.   

Further outbreaks at Finnish fur farms

Over the past week, the Finland veterinary authority has notified WOAH about a further 19 outbreaks linked to the H5N1 HPAI virus in animals other than birds.

Since the first cases were confirmed at the end of June, the number of the nation’s fur farms found to be infected has reached 65.

Like the great majority of previous cases, the latest were detected as a result of serological testing at premises in the region of Western and Inland Finland.

Of the around 468,000 animals affected by the country's outbreaks so far, there have been 2,434 virus-positive cases, including four wild mammals. Of the total, more than 2,200 of the cases have been in captive Arctic foxes. 

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.  

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