European countries cull poultry to fend off avian flu

Poultry farmers across Europe have been forced to cull their flocks in the latest effort to slow the spread of the highly-contagious avian influenza on the continent.

On Wednesday, Swedish authorities announced they would cull around 165,000 chickens at a single farm in the southern part of the country after a salmonella outbreak.

“We have decided to cull the animals before the coops are sanitized and new animals are reintroduced,” Katharina Gielen, head of disease control and prevention at Sweden’s Board of Agriculture, told Xinhua news agency.

In the Czech Republic, it was announced this week that more than 750,000 chickens on a cluster of farms in the western part of the country were culled for similar reasons.

“Despite the measures taken and all efforts, it was not possible to prevent the spread of the highly contagious poultry disease to other areas,” the country’s State Veterinary Administration said.

Meanwhile, France is reportedly considering widespread vaccination of its chicken and turkey populations.

Tens of millions of birds across Europe are reportedly being kept indoors as a safeguard, adding to the cost of upkeep and raising the possibility of a fast spread if some of those populations become infected.

Case numbers for the disease were high in Europe throughout 2022, particularly on farms in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Spain, and Sweden.

Additionally, wild bird populations in Austria, Denmark, Italy, and the Netherlands have been testing positive for avian influenza since December 30, 2022.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said that an outbreak of avian influenza (otherwise known as bird flu) between October 2021 and September 2022 was the “most devastating” the continent had ever seen, with around 2,500 outbreaks reported in 37 European countries.

The disease, known scientifically as the H5N1 Avian Influenza, was first recorded in 1879, and has seen periodic outbreaks since then.

Crossover from birds to humans is relatively rare, although in November 2021 it was announced that two farm workers in Spain had tested positive for avian flu.

It was only the second case of the transmission of the disease to humans in Europe since 2003.

The health risk to the workers, aged 19 and 27, was not considered serious.

However, there is also a risk of illness — and even death — among those who consume chicken or turkey meat, or eggs from chickens that have been infected with bird flu.

The widespread culling is likely to add to inflationary pressure in European countries.

Prices have already risen to record levels in recent months, sparked by rising fuel costs and supply issues due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.




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