Bird flu epidemic devastates Europe: experts

According to a German government research institute, Europe is experiencing the worst avian flu outbreak ever.

“We are currently experiencing the strongest bird flu epidemic of all time in Germany and Europe,” said the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI), the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, of the German Press Agency (dpa).

New cases are detected every day and not only wild birds are affected, according to the institute.

“There is no end in sight – the countries affected range from Finland to the Faroe Islands to Ireland, from Russia to Portugal,” said researchers. Cases have also been found in Canada, India, and East Asia.

In Germany alone, 394 infections in wild birds, including ducks, geese, swans and gulls, were registered between the beginning of October and December 29. The cases were mainly detected along the coast. The FLI also recorded 46 infections in German poultry farms.

In the same period of time, the FLI data showed 675 infections in wild birds and 534 infections in farm animals across Europe. There were also further cases of mammals this year, for example red foxes in the Netherlands and Finland, gray seals in Sweden, harbor seals in Germany and otters in Finland.

In the Czech Republic, authorities said Tuesday that around 80,000 hens would have to be killed after more than 100,000 animals had died from avian flu since late last week.

The farm in Libotenice, about 45 kilometers north of Prague, had a total of 188,000 chickens before Christmas.

“The culling of chickens from halls affected by avian flu is ongoing,” State Veterinary Administration spokesman Petr Majer told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “The figures show that this strain, the highly pathogenic H5N1, is very aggressive and kills chickens in particular quickly and en masse,” he added. He said veterinarians would also destroy over a million eggs from the farm.

The Czech Republic recorded 48 avian flu outbreaks this year, the highest number in any calendar year in history. The disease is currently plaguing Europe, with France reporting an outbreak in its foie gras producing region of Landes last week.

“Clinical signs leave no doubt and it was decided to kill the herd,” said Marie-Helene Cazaubon, chairwoman of the Landes Chamber of Agriculture, almost two weeks ago on Saturday, the day after the outbreak was identified.

The local authorities have set up a 3-kilometer protection zone and a 10-kilometer surveillance zone around the courtyard. It is the second outbreak to be detected in the southwest since a major epidemic last year that killed 2.5 million ducks and geese.

Earlier last month, health officials asked organic and free range poultry farmers to lock up their poultry to avoid contact with migratory birds that could transmit the virus.

“We are in a migration corridor through which birds from Northern Europe fly … and we have to be very vigilant,” said Cazaubon, herself a duck breeder.

Cazaubon noted that most of the ducks and geese have already been slaughtered for their fatty liver in order to make the famous foie gras pate popular during the holiday season.

The tradition goes deep in France but is controversial as the birds are force-fed to artificially fatten their livers.

About a quarter of French foie gras comes from the Landes, which includes around 800 farms that mainly raise ducks.

Another bird flu outbreak has been detected in a rural county in East Anglia, England. According to the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), H5N1 was found in the Watlington area near King’s Lynn.

Temporary surveillance zones of 3 and 10 kilometers have been set up around the affected areas.

A previous case of avian flu in poultry was identified in Holkham. Two cases of avian flu were identified in Essex last month.

In northern Israel, the flu has killed at least 5,200 draft cranes and forced farmers to slaughter hundreds of thousands of chickens as authorities try to contain what they believe is the deadliest wildlife disaster in the country’s history.

Uri Naveh, a senior scientist with the Israeli Parks and Nature Agency, said the situation is not yet under control.

“Many of the birds are dead in the middle of the water, so it is difficult for them to get them out,” he said.

Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg called the crisis “the worst damage caused by game in the history of the country”.

“The extent of the damage is still unclear,” she tweeted.

Yaron Michaeli, spokesman for Hula Lake Park, where the crane population is located, said workers would remove the carcasses as soon as possible, fearing they could infect other wildlife.

Agriculture ministry spokeswoman Dafna Yurista said half a million chickens were being slaughtered in the area to prevent the disease from spreading.

About 500,000 cranes pass Israel on their way to Africa each year and a small number stay behind, Michaeli said. That year, an estimated 30,000 cranes stayed in Israel through the winter.

Michaeli said the cranes are believed to have been infected by smaller birds that have had contact with farms suffering from outbreaks.

Israeli media featured photos of workers in white protective suits collecting crane carcasses after the birds became ill for the first time about 10 days ago. Michaeli said the crane death toll had appeared to have stabilized in recent days.

“That’s a good sign,” he said. “You could start getting over it. We really hope so.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said officials from agriculture, environment and health departments were monitoring the situation. There is no immediate information about infections among humans, it said. The cleanup is going slower than expected.

“We’re trying to see if there are other solutions,” said Naveh.

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