Europe’s 2021 avian flu outbreak total in poultry passed 1,700

The amount of highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks in Europe in 2021 quadrupled that of 2020.

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In Europe, the number of confirmed outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in poultry flocks in 2021 is four times higher than the previous year. 

During the whole of 2021, the number of HPAI outbreaks in European poultry flocks totaled 1,756.

This is according to the latest report from the Animal Disease Information System of the European Commission (EC). Broadly covered by this System are all the European Union member states, and their immediate neighbors. 

Over the course of the year, 24 countries registered with the EC one of more outbreaks.

Reporting the most outbreaks was France with a total of 504, followed by Poland (402), Italy (296), and Germany (252). Also registering significant number of outbreaks in poultry were Hungary (91), the Czech Republic (47), and Lithuania (39). Each of the other 17 countries confirmed with the EC fewer than 20 outbreaks during 2021.

Since the start of the autumn 2021, the H5N1 HPAI virus has been the dominant serotype circulating in Europe. 

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, with Hungary the worst affected (273 outbreaks). H5N8 serotype was the most frequently detected across the continent during 2020 and the earlier months of 2021. 

Latest developments in the HPAI situation in European poultry

Up to the end of December, 298 outbreaks of HPAI were confirmed in Italian poultry flocks. This is according to the nation’s health authority and research organization for animal health and food safety, IZSVe.

At each location, presence of an H5 HPAI has been confirmed, and the H5N1 serotype has been confirmed in the majority of cases. While the infection has been detected in a handful of backyard flocks, the great majority of outbreaks have involved large commercial premises in the northeast and northwest. The worst affected region has been Veneto, while multiple outbreaks have occurred in Lombardy. The virus has also been detected in Friuli Venezia Giulia and Lazio.

Between the first cases being confirmed in mid-October and the start of January, more than 14.6 million of the nation‚Äôs poultry were involved in these outbreaks. This is according to official reports from the Italian veterinary authority to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Also reporting to the OIE new outbreaks linked to the H5N1 virus variant in their respective poultry populations have been Austria (one recent outbreak), Belgium (one), Denmark (three), France (15), Hungary (36) The Netherlands (two), Poland (three), and the United Kingdom (U.K.; six).

A recent significant development in Denmark is the detection of the H5N8 HPAI virus in a commercial poultry flock. This virus subtype had been eradicated from the country in July of 2021.

According to reports to the OIE, a wild bird tested positive for this virus serotype in mid-December. In early January, the same variant was picked up in a flock of around 100, laying hens in the Central Denmark municipality of Viborg. All the birds were culled to prevent further spread of the infection.

HPAI cases in European wild birds pass 2,400

In 2021, 31 European states reported 2,437 cases of HPAI in wild birds through the EC information system.

Confirming by far the highest number of cases was Germany (1,261). Following were Denmark (278), The Netherlands (192), Sweden (122), Poland (98), and Finland (65).

For comparison, a total of 756 outbreaks in 13 of the region‚Äôs states were registered with the EC over the whole of 2020. In that year, Germany accounted for 455 of the reported outbreaks, the U.K. for 93, Denmark for 76, and The Netherlands for 50.

In recent days, Spain reported five cases of H5N1 HPAI in wild birds to the OIE. This were the first cases ever to be detected in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

U.K. reports first human H5N1 infection

In the U.K., travelers to China for the upcoming Lunar New Year (February 1-15) are being made aware of the risk of avian flu. According to the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA), a record number of human cases of avian flu(H5N6) were reported in China in 2021. More than 20 cases were confirmed during the year ‚ÄĒ mostly in people who previously had close contact with infected birds.

On January 6, UKHSA issued a similar warning to the nation’s poultry owners. This followed confirmation of a recent case of avian influenza in a person in the southwest of England.

Transmission of the virus from a bird to a human is ‚Äúvery rare,‚ÄĚ according to the agency, but it has occurred in the country a small number of times. The person acquired the infection from ‚Äúvery close, regular contact with a large number of infected birds, which they kept in and around their home over a prolonged period of time,‚ÄĚ it reports.

Generally, the risk to the public has been assessed as low, but the public is warned not to touch sick or dead birds.

While the flock tested positive for the H5N1 serotype, identification of the virus serotype infecting their owner has not yet been completed.

The patient was reported to be well and self-isolating. None of this person’s contact has been infected.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation.

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