H5N8 detected in Spain, Slovenia for first time

The scope of highly pathogenic H5N8 avian flu outbreaks in Europe expanded again, with Spain and Slovenia reporting their first detections in wild birds today, as China and South Korea continue the battle against the H5N6 strain.

In US avian flu developments, scientists from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported a genetic analysis of the H5N2 virus collected in August from a wild mallard in Alaska.

Spain, Slovenia find H5N8 in waterfowl

Spain's first outbreak, coming just days after Italy announced its first H5N8 findings, occurred in the Castilla and Leon community in the northwestern part of the country, Spain's agriculture ministry said today in a report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). In several already affected European countries, the H5N8 virus turned up first in wild birds, then spread to local poultry.

Tests on two wild geese that were found dead in a lagoon were positive for H5N8. Response steps include increased surveillance and enhanced biosecurity at poultry farms in the area, the report said.

Meanwhile, Slovenia reported three outbreaks, all involving wild mute swans found dead near ponds and the Drava River near Maribor, the country's second-largest city, according to a report to the OIE. Many of Slovenia's neighbors reported earlier H5N8 outbreaks.

The five swans involved in the outbreaks were found dead between Jan 1 and Jan 10.

In other European developments, Serbia yesterday reported three more H5N8 outbreaks in wild birds between Dec 16 and Jan 9, involving six mute swans found dead at different nature parks in the northern part of the country.

H5N6 developments in Asia

With a handful of countries in Asia battling highly pathogenic H5N6 strain in poultry, China today reported a new outbreak at a goose farm in Hunan province, located in the southeastern part of the country, according to a report to the OIE.

The outbreak began on Jan 11, killing 1,054 of 3,121 susceptible birds. Authorities culled the remaining ones to curb the spread of the virus.

China's agriculture ministry said yesterday that the H5N6 outbreak is its fifth since October, Reuters reported today.

South Korea, which has lost more than 31 million poultry since November in its battle against the H5N6 virus, is importing nearly 3 million eggs from the United States to ease the related shortage, Reuters reported yesterday, citing industry and agriculture ministry sources.

They are the first US egg imports since 1999, and officials are also exploring the possibility of getting eggs from Spain.

Genetic analysis of Alaskan H5N2

In a Jan 9 letter in Emerging Infectious Diseases, USDA researchers said the H5N2 virus found during wild bird surveillance in Alaska in August 2016 is the same novel reassortant seen in the 2015 outbreaks that struck poultry in Midwestern states.

When comparing genetic sequences with other recent samples, they found that it clustered with H5N2 viruses detected in the United States early in the outbreaks and that the recent virus showed signs of genetic drift without further reassortment.

The researchers said the sequencing findings add to strong evidence that North American wild birds continue to harbor the H5N2 strain, posing a risk of spread southward during fall migration in 2016.

Two days ago the USDA announced a new H5N2 detection in a sample from a wild duck in Montana that was shot by a hunter. Initial analysis also suggests the virus is related to the 2015 US poultry outbreak strain, and health officials said it was a reminder of how important it is for poultry producers to stay vigilant.

See also:

Jan 12 OIE report on H5N8 in Spain

Jan 12 OIE report on H5N8 in Slovenia

Jan 11 OIE report on H5N8 in Serbia

Jan 12 OIE report on H5N6 in China

Jan 12 Reuters story on China outbreak

Jan 11 Reuters story on South Korean egg imports

Jan 9 Emerg Infect Dis letter

Jan 10 CIDRAP News story "H5N2 found in wild Montana duck as H5N8 spreads to Italy"

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