Avian flu did not take a vacation, falls under strain on farms

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Paris (AFP) – No respite for poultry farmers: The ravages of bird flu on wildlife pose a major threat to farms that haven’t had time to digest the previous episode.

“Everyone is on high alert,” Yves-Marie Beaudet, president of the interprofessional eggs (CNPO), said Wednesday during a news conference.

Poultry professionals are still stunned by the episode of highly pathogenic avian flu (commonly called avian flu) last winter and spring.

On an unprecedented scale, it led to the slaughter in France of 21 million animals (ducks, laying hens, turkeys, etc.), even in previously preserved areas such as the Vendée.

Recovery is difficult, due to the lack of enough chicks and ducklings to fill the farms.

The state plans to pay nearly a billion euros to compensate breeders and industrialists who lack meat and eggs to run their factories.

“It is absolutely necessary to prevent what we experienced last spring in Vendée from happening again. (…) We cannot sustain a second year like this, economically, psychologically”, warns Mr. Beaudet, himself a breeder of laying hens in the Côtes-d’Armor.

But the virus strikes again, with 18 French farms infected since Aug. 1, according to the latest Agriculture Ministry report.

France has just raised the risk level to “moderate”. Free-range poultry farming is prohibited in high-risk areas to avoid contact with migratory birds carrying the virus.

Ducks slaughtered due to bird flu, January 27, 2022, in Lohitzun-Oyhercq in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques
Ducks slaughtered due to bird flu, January 27, 2022, in Lohitzun-Oyhercq in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques GAIZKA IROZ AFP/Archives

In general, the first cases in domestic birds are due to direct or indirect contact (droppings) with wild birds, then the virus spreads from farm to farm through the movement of animals, people and materials.

Unprecedented fact: this summer, the virus has not disappeared. It continued to circulate in Europe among wildlife. And it decimated protected marine species like gannets in Brittany.

‘As the autumn migration begins and the number of wild birds overwintering in Europe increases’, the risk of avian influenza infection is ‘probably ‘higher’ than in previous years due to the persistence of the virus in Europe,” stressed this week Guilhem de Seze, head of the department responsible for risk assessment of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

“Unprecedented”

The French platform for epidemiological surveillance in animal health (ESA) mentions in an article an “alarming situation”, stressing the authors that the risks of infection “will increase sharply in the coming weeks”.

The epidemic that has been spreading continuously for a year is “the most important epidemic observed to date in Europe”, reports EFSA. In one year, according to this source, 47.7 million birds were slaughtered on contaminated European farms.

Hopes are pinned on the development of a vaccine for animals. But the results are not expected until next year.

Some cases of transmission of the virus to humans have been reported in China, the United Kingdom, the United States and very recently in Spain, in a farm worker.

European health authorities estimate that the risk of infection is “low” for people who do not have prolonged contact with birds and “low to medium for people exposed professionally”.

Cases have also been identified in foxes, seals and a porpoise.

The risk of transmission to humans through consumption of contaminated meat or eggs is considered “negligible”.

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