High-path H7N9 expands to poultry in China's Hunan province

China today reported a highly pathogenic H7N9 outbreak at a poultry farm in Hunan province, the first detection of the newly identified more lethal form in poultry outside of Guangdong province, while Japan reported two new H5N6 outbreaks at poultry farms in different prefectures.

In Europe, there are some indications that the brisk pace of avian flu outbreaks may be slowing, but countries continue to report fresh outbreaks in poultry and backyard birds.

H7N9 affects 190,000 birds in China

In a report today to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), China's agriculture ministry said the outbreak at a layer farm near the city of Yongzhou in Hunan province began on Mar 19 and was detected though active surveillance. Samples tested positive for highly pathogenic H7N9 today in tests at the Harbin National Reference Lab for Avian Influenza.

Of 189,676 susceptible birds, the virus killed 18,497, and the remaining birds were destroyed to curb the spread of the disease.

The outbreak involving the highly pathogenic form of H7N9 is the first to be confirmed on a poultry farm. In late February, China reported that several samples from birds at live-poultry markets in neighboring Guangdong province were positive for the virus.

Until this year, only the low-pathogenic form the virus had been found in Chinese poultry, which, because it can circulate silently without symptoms, has made it difficult to identify and control in flocks and markets.

A few human illnesses involving the highly pathogenic strain have been identified in Guangdong province and Taiwan, but so far it doesn't appear to pose a greater threat to humans than its low-pathogenic relative.

Health officials have said though the highly pathogenic strain might be easier to track in poultry, it poses a threat to poultry supplies and raises questions about whether a highly pathogenic strain might be more easily spread by migratory birds.

Japan reports H5N6 in 2 large flocks

Elsewhere, Japan today reported two more highly pathogenic H5N6 outbreaks at commercial layer farms, one in Miyagi prefecture in east central Japan and the other about 230 miles to the south in Chiba prefecture, according to a report from the OIE.

An increase in birth deaths was noted at both locations on Mar 23, prompting further testing. Taken together, the virus killed 71 of 288,000 susceptible birds, and culling is under way at the facilities.

Japan and a handful of other Asian countries have battled several H5N6 outbreaks over the winter season.

Possible slowdown in Europe

Amid unprecedented spread in European poultry and wild birds of avian influenza, mainly highly pathogenic H5N8, Germany is relaxing some of its restrictions in certain areas, Reuters reported today. The northern state is Schleswig-Holstein starting tomorrow will allow poultry into open fields again, following about 5 weeks without further outbreaks.

Earlier this week, French agriculture ministry officials said outbreaks that hit hard the foie gras production area in the southwestern part of the country over the past few months have slowed in the past 2 weeks, Reuters said in a separate report. For the second year in a row, the farming area battled a handful of different strains, mostly H5N8.

Meanwhile, countries continue to report new detections in poultry and wild birds, according to the latest OIE reports:

  • Belgium reported a new H5N8 outbreak, involving a mallard and a black swan found dead on Mar 17 in Limburg province in the country's northeast.

  • Czech Republic officials reported one more H5N8 outbreak in poultry, which began Mar 21 at a backyard holding in Karlovy Vary region in the east, killing 6 of 34 hens and ducks.

See also:

Mar 24 OIE report on high-path H7N9 in China

Mar 24 OIE report on H5N6 in Japan

Mar 24 Reuters story

Mar 20 Reuters story

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