Fast spreading bird flu puts Europe and Asia on alert

Several outbreaks of severe bird flu in Europe and Asia have been reported in recent days to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), in a sign the virus is spreading quickly again.

The spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, has put the poultry industry on alert after previous outbreaks led to the culling of tens of millions of birds.

It is attracting the attention too of epidemiologists as the virus can be transmitted to humans. China has reported 21 human infections with the H5N6 subtype of avian influenza so far this year, more than in the whole of 2020.

South Korea reported an outbreak at a farm of around 770,000 poultry in Chungcheongbuk-do, the OIE said on Monday, citing a report from the South Korean authorities. All animals were slaughtered.

Also in Asia, Japan reported its first outbreak of the 2021 winter season, at a poultry farm in the north-east of the country, the OIE said, confirming a statement last week by Japan’s agriculture ministry. The serotype in this outbreak was H5N8.

In Europe, Norway reported an H5N1 bird flu outbreak in the Rogaland region in a flock of 7,000 birds, the OIE said.

Bird flu circulates naturally among wild birds, and when they migrate to the UK from mainland Europe in winter the disease can be spread to poultry and other captive birds.

The Belgian government put the country on increased risk for bird flu, ordering poultry to be kept indoors as of Monday, after a highly pathogenic variant of bird flu was identified in a wild goose near Antwerp.

This followed a similar move in neighbouring France earlier this month and in the Netherlands in October.

Earlier this month, a bird flu prevention zone was declared across Great Britain, legally requiring all bird keepers to follow strict biosecurity measures after a flock of poultry was culled near Dundee in Scotland in response to a bird flu outbreak.

Bird flu can affect humans in rare cases if people touch infected birds, their droppings or bedding, or while preparing infected poultry for cooking.

General Health