Avian influenza may be losing steam in Europe

May 16, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – The devastating outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the Netherlands is showing signs of losing steam, and a smaller outbreak in neighboring Belgium has been halted, according to European officials.

No outbreaks on commercial poultry farms have occurred in the Netherlands since Apr 29, the European Commission's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health reported yesterday. The disease has been found on 252 farms, and the containment effort has prompted the destruction of 28 million birds, according to the committee. Before the outbreak, the nation's total poultry inventory was estimated at about 100 million birds.

In Belgium, HPAI outbreaks were reported at eight sites after the disease was first found on a farm near the Dutch border Apr 15, the committee said. "The last outbreak dates from 28 April and no new suspicions have been raised since," the statement said. About 3 million birds were killed at the affected sites and in surrounding areas to contain the disease. "It can thus be concluded that the disease has been eradicated," officials said.

HPAI also was reported on one farm in western Germany near the Dutch border May 8 and was confirmed May 11, according to the European Commission. German authorities culled all poultry within 3 kilometers of the farm, and no further outbreaks have been reported in Germany since then, according to the commission.

A ban on the export of live poultry and hatching eggs from the Netherlands remains in effect, the animal health committee said. The ban on exportation of live poultry and hatching eggs from Belgium will be lifted May 27, except in the provinces of Antwerp and Limburg, where the ban will remain until May 30.

In the Netherlands, Agriculture Minister Cees Veerman reported May 14 that only four new suspected or confirmed HPAI outbreaks had occurred since May 1. "Although the number of outbreaks is decreasing, the veterinary risk of a new outbreak has not disappeared," Veerman said in a report to the Dutch Parliament. He announced plans to ease some restrictions on the movement of poultry and poultry products within the country.

Avian influenza viruses can infect humans but rarely cause serious human illness. As of May 8, 417 people in the Netherlands had complained of symptoms possibly related to HPAI, but only 86 cases were diagnosed as avian influenza infections, Veerman reported. "We are now seeing a fall in reported complaints," he said. As reported previously, in mid-April a Dutch veterinarian died of pneumonia that was linked to the outbreak virus (influenza A:H7N7). His death was termed an isolated case and did not involve an unusual form of the virus.

See also:

European Commission's chronology of the HPAI outbreak

CIDRAP News report on Dutch veterinarian's death

CIDRAP avian influenza overview

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