Jul 5, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – France's agriculture ministry said today that three swans found dead in Moselle department in the eastern part of the country tested positive for H5N1 avian influenza, making France the third European country in recent weeks to report new outbreaks in wild birds.
The swans were found in a pond in Assenoncourt, about 30 miles from the German border, according to a report that French officials filed with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) today. Officials set up a control zone around the pond, ordered measures to protect poultry from wild birds, and banned pigeon racing and other bird-related activities, according to a an Associated Press (AP) report.
The new findings mark France's second confirmed H5N1 outbreak. In February 2006 the country reported finding H5N1 in several wild birds, including mute swans and ducks, in Ain department in east-central France. Soon afterward the virus was detected at a nearby turkey farm, which led to the culling of 11,300 birds, according to OIE reports.
Though the outbreaks prompted France to raise its avian flu threat level from moderate to high, Health Minister Roselyn Bachelot sought to quell alarm, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report today. "France is not threatened by a bird flu pandemic as there has not been, for the moment, a human contamination from the H5N1 virus," she told AFP.
The Czech Republic and Germany also have reported wild bird outbreaks in recent weeks. Veterinary officials in Germany said today that the H5N1 virus has now been detected in birds at the border between Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt states, raising the number of states that have recently found the virus in wild birds to four, Deutsche Presse-Argentur (DPA) reported.
The 38 birds that tested positive for H5N1 were among 100 found dead in a manmade lake, the DPA report said. In the past week, wild swans, ducks, and geese from two other sites in Germany—Leipzig in Saxony and Nuremberg in Bavaria—have tested positive for H5N1, according to DPA.
In other European developments, state television in Austria said veterinary officials are testing eight birds that were found dead on a promenade in the lake town of Altmuenster, about 20 miles east of Salzburg, Bloomberg News reported today.
Six European nations—Russia, England, the Czech Republic, Hungary, France, and Germany—and Turkey have reported H5N1 outbreaks this year, according to the OIE and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Many of the recent H5N1 case confirmations in birds have involved swans, which is important, Dr Albert Osterhaus, a virologist based in the Netherlands, told Bloomberg News. "They are the sentinels of the disease" and may signal that more avian flu infections will follow, he said in the Bloomberg report.
In other news, the OIE announced yesterday that it gave Togo 1 million doses of avian flu vaccine from its vaccine bank to protect adult poultry from H5N1.
In late June officials in Togo announced an H5N1 outbreak at a chicken farm near the country's capital, Lome. The positive findings, which were independently confirmed recently at an Italian laboratory, raised the number of affected African countries to 10.
The vaccine bank, which consists of physical stocks as well as commitments from suppliers, was established in May 2006 to help African countries rapidly respond to H5N1 outbreaks in poultry, the OIE report said. Countries can also request supplies from the vaccine stock for prevention programs.
Meanwhile, officials in Vietnam have put in an urgent order to China to buy 50 million doses of H5N1 vaccine for poultry, Reuters reported yesterday. The country has only 15 million doses left, and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has approved an order to import 200 million doses of the vaccine for a nationwide control campaign.
In the past few months, Vietnam has reported five human H5N1 cases and two deaths, and 18 of the country's provinces have reported poultry outbreaks.
Vietnam's agriculture minister, Cao Duc Phat, was quoted in a Saigon newspaper as saying that though outbreaks were declining in the northern region, the southern regions were at serious risk for recurrence of avian flu, the Reuters report said.
OIE report on infected swans in France
May 2007 FAO report
July 4 OIE statement on H5N1 vaccine for Togo