H5N8 outbreaks expand to Serbia

Serbia today became the latest country in Europe to report highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza, as France and the United Kingdom took new steps to protect poultry flocks from the virus.

Serbia's detection involves swans

Serbia's agriculture ministry said today that the virus was found in six mute swans found dead in a nature park near Novi Sad in the north central part of the country, according to a report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The outbreak began on Nov 30, and testing at Serbia's national lab were positive for the virus on Dec 2.

Three of Serbia's neighbors—Croatia, Hungary, and Romania—have already been hit by the virus. H5N8 has now been confirmed in 14 European countries, and it is suspected in an H5 outbreak reported by Ukrainian officials in late November. Outside of the region, the virus has also turned up in Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, and Tunisia.

In a related development, Israeli veterinary officials yesterday reported three more H5N8 outbreaks, striking turkey farms in Hadarom, southwest of where H5N8 was first reported in late November, according to another report to the OIE.

The outbreak began on Dec 2 and Dec 5 when farmers noticed an increase in bird deaths. Between the three locations, the virus sickened 23,000 of 45,000 birds, killing 16,800 of them. Authorities culled the remaining poultry.

Officials said the source of H5N8 is contact with wild species and that the affected farms are on the path of migrating birds flying from Europe to Africa.

France, UK actions

Elsewhere in Europe, France's agriculture ministry this morning announced that it raised the avian flu alert to its highest level for the whole country, according to a government statement translated and posted by Avian Flu Diary, an infectious disease news blog.

When H5N8 first turned up in France a few weeks ago, officials put the risk level at moderate, with the level at high for certain wetlands. Since then the virus has spread to at least eight poultry farms, especially in the southwestern part of the country where foie gras production is centered. At about this time last year three other strains wiped out flocks in that area.

Though H5N8 hasn't been detected in Britain, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) today as a precautionary step announced a prevention zone for the whole country, which requires poultry and captive birds to be kept indoors or for farmers to take other steps to separate them from wild birds.

DEFRA ordered the protective zone to remain in place for 30 days, and it urged poultry keepers to be alert for any signs of disease, report illnesses promptly to veterinary authorities, and take extra biosecurity measures, such as cleaning clothing and other items before contact with poultry.

H5N6 developments

  • Japanese animal health officials yesterday announced two more highly pathogenic avian flu outbreaks at poultry farms, both involving H5N6, in Aomori and Niigata prefectures, which had already reported H5 outbreaks. In a report to the OIE, officials said further testing confirmed N6, which follows earlier confirmation of H5N6 in wild birds.

  • In Hong Kong, veterinary officials said additional tests of environmental samples taken on Nov 25 from the Mai Po Nature Reserve that yielded H5N6 also contained DNA from Northern pintail ducks, according to a separate report yesterday to the OIE.

See also:

Dec 6 OIE report on H5N8 in Serbia

Dec 5 OIE report on H5N8 in Israel

Dec 6 Avian Flu Diary post on French alert

Dec 6 DEFRA statement

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