Weekly Overview: New Bird Flu Virus Spreads to Europe

GLOBAL - A new subtype of highly pathogenic avian flu virus has hit Europe for the first time, with an outbreak in Germany in the first week of November followed by a further two in the Netherlands and the UK over last weekend. The risks to human health are reported to be low but control measures are challenging for producers. In Antibiotic Awareness Week, many organisations are calling for the responsible use of these drugs.
calendar icon 20 November 2014
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Since it hit a turkey farm in Germany two weeks ago, the highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza virus has been found at two further farms in Europe.

Over last weekend, a farm near Utrecht in the Netherlands was affected. More than 1,000 birds of a flock of 150,000 layer and breeding hens died. The same day, a flock of 6,000 duck breeders in east Yorkshire in the UK was hit by the disease, with 338 birds dying of the infection.

All the birds on the affected farms have been destroyed and thorough cleaning and disinfection are being carried out.

Control measures are in place in the areas surrounding the affected farms to control the spread of the infection. At the time of writing, no further cases of bird flu have been announced in Germany, the Netherlands or the UK.

This is welcome news, of course, but the control measures are challenging for local poultry producers caught in the control zones. All poultry are to be kept inside, which causes problems for the farmers in terms of manure disposal and increases the risk of feather pecking. Movement controls mean that eggs and meat birds are not being collected.

Furthermore, Ukraine has already announced a ban on the import of live poultry and poultry products from Germany, the Netherlands or the UK.

The H5N8 virus is similar to one reported in Asia in January this year and in a wild bird in Japan last week. How it travelled to Europe is not yet known but migrating wild birds are the suspected source; they can carry the virus over long distances without showing any signs of infection.

Food safety organisations have been at pains to stress that the risk of the virus being transmitted to people in poultry products is minimal. Those who work with the birds are unlikely to become infected either as so far, no cases of H5N8 flu have been reported in people.

It has been reported in the last week that the H7N9 virus, however, has caused three more women in China to be admitted to hospital; one has died.

Two women have died in Egypt this month from confirmed H5N1 infections.

In a global initiative for Antibiotic Awareness Week, a number of medical and veterinary organisations have come out in support of the responsible use of antibiotics in their respective sectors in a bid to slow the development of drug resistance in pathogenic bacteria. 'Using as much as necessary and as little as possible' has been a common theme of these campaigns.

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