Netherlands, Italy report new avian flu outbreaks

In ongoing avian flu activity in Europe, the Netherlands today reported two more highly pathogenic H5N6 outbreaks in wild bird species, and Italy reported another highly pathogenic H5N8 poultry outbreak.

Also, European public health agencies posted updated risk assessments regarding both viruses.

Italian outbreak involves 17,000 birds

Animal health officials in the Netherlands reported H5N6 detections from two locations, one involving a mute swan found dead on Dec 14 near a village in Gelderland province in the north and the other not far away involving captive wild birds in a village in Flevoland province, according to a report today from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

The latter outbreak began Dec 15, killing 12 of 30 susceptible birds, which included mallards, greylag geese, peacocks, and guineafowl. Authorities culled the remaining birds.

Earlier this month, the Netherlands confirmed its first outbreak involving a new H5N6 reassortant that had recently turned up in South Korea and Japan. The virus has also been reported in Taiwan. The virus is a reassortant of highly pathogenic H5N8 and endemic Eurasian viruses.

In a separate OIE report, Italy reported another H5N8 outbreak that began Dec 10 at a fattening turkey farm in Emilia-Romagna region in the country's northeast. The virus killed 1,135 of 17,000 susceptible birds, and culling was completed on Dec 12.

Though H5N8 outbreak in Europe dropped steeply over the spring and summer months, outbreaks have continued in Italy.

DEFRA eyes H5N6 threat

The UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) yesterday posted an updated assessment regarding the H5N6 developments in the Netherlands. It said Dutch officials are investigating any possible links between the initial H5N6 detection at a commercial duck farm and the latest outbreaks.

DEFRA said finding the virus in mute swans is concerning for several reasons, including that the Netherlands is a stopover point for waterfowl migrating farther west into the United Kingdom and potentially posing a threat until February.

Given uncertainty about the prevalence of H5N8 in wild birds for the current season and the developing situation with H5N6 in the Netherlands, DEFRA is keeping the UK risk level for highly pathogenic avian influenza at medium pending further review.

"Because of the proximity of the Netherlands to the UK and possibility of wild birds flying to the UK from Europe, the main focus must now be on H5N6 in wild birds in the UK rather than H5N8, the risk of which appears to be diminishing within Europe at least," it said.

Report adds details on H5N8 in Italy

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) today issued a joint report on avian flu in Europe between Sep 1 and Nov 15, covering 48 H5N8 outbreaks in poultry and 9 highly pathogenic H5 detections in wild birds.

Italy experienced a second H5N8 wave that began in July and is still under way. Epidemiologic investigations in Italy suggest that sharing of vehicles and personnel and the proximity of affected farms are likely fueling secondary spread in densely populated poultry areas.

So far no transmission to humans has been identified.

The report noted that a recently reported human H5N6 infection in China underscores the continued threat of avian flu viruses to human health, especially since migratory birds could carry the virus into Europe.

See also:

Dec 22 OIE report on H5N6 in the Netherlands

Dec 22 OIE report on H5N8 in Italy

Dec 21 DEFRA report

Dec 22 ECDC/EFSA report

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