The newest avian influenza strain, H5N8, is spreading throughout Europe with cases confirmed in German, the Netherlands, and Britain. The first outbreak started at a turkey farm in Germany around November 6. This strain is very similar to one labeled H5N6 that arose in China, Republic of Korean, and Japan earlier this year.
German continues to monitor the status of poultry within its borders and determine the source of the infection. There is no confirmation that wild birds migrating from Central Asia brought the virus into Europe although that is likely the most plausible scenario.
Current hot spots include the Netherlands and Britain. The first outbreak in the Netherlands occurred at a farm in Hekendrop, south of Amsterdam. Health authorities culled 150,000 hens living at that location and set up a restriction. The Dutch government also blocked the shipping of eggs and meat within the country.
The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs in Britain reported infected ducks at a farm in the Driffield area in east Yorkshire, north England. While department authorities took precautions, the risk to the public is considered very low with no concern about infecting the food chain. Authorities culled 6,000 ducks and implemented a six-mile restriction zone.
The main concern about avian influenza cases spreading in Europe is the disruption to traditional holiday food choices. Turkeys, chickens, and ducks are in high demand by the celebrating consumer market this time of year. Higher prices and limited supply of poultry may be this holiday’s reality.
Meanwhile, determining the source and cause of avian influenza cases is a high priority. Chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbons suspects the Yorkshire infection arose from earlier occurrences: “We’ll be looking for other possible sources of the disease, including any links to the disease we are seeing in the Netherlands and Germany and that will include looking at the risk from wild birds spread to our national flocks.”
The European Union issued warnings and new food standards while also reassuring importers that most poultry on the continent has not been exposed. Dutch policies exceed EU standards as the country started facing difficulty with avian influenza in 2005. With a higher density of poultry population, uncontrolled disease spread is a larger concern in the Netherlands than in the less-poultry dense Britain.
This strain is not linked to deadly versions of the virus but human infection remains a threat. In its statement, the Dutch government warned, “This highly pathogenic variant of avian influenza is very dangerous for bird life. The disease can be transmitted to humans.”
So far, there have been no instances of human infection or death from H5N8. The mortality rate is highest for chickens and turkeys, and lower for ducks. One woman in Egypt died of the deadly strain of avian influenza, H5N1, after she was exposed to infected birds. That area underwent a poultry cull and exclusion zone. There is no evidence of H5N1 in Europe at this time.
Authorities advise agricultural communities that early detection of the disease will slow the spread and reduce the number of avian influenza cases in Europe. Farmers are asked to look out for suspicious death, neurological signs, decreased appetite, and reduced egg production in their bird populations. Symptoms must be reported to health officials immediately. Meanwhile, good sanitation for poultry habitats and limited contact with wild birds is highly recommended.
By Jocelyn S. Mackie
Featured Photo by Martin Abegglen – Flickr License
Main Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture – Flickr License