With widespread outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry across the continent since the start of winter, European Union agriculture ministers want to explore the future use of vaccines in disease control.
Over the past two years, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has spread widely across Europe. Outbreaks have led to widespread losses of poultry, and the financial costs to the industry have been heavy.
Furthermore, although very few cases have been detected in people over recent years linked to poultry as a source of infection, HPAI virus represents a potential future risk to human health.
Until now, this region has encouraged strict biosecurity as the means to prevent infections, and stamping-out at affected premises. This latter policy involves the culling of all remaining poultry at the location, and destruction of all carcasses and other potentially infected materials.
So far, as an alternative, vaccination has not been favored primarily because it is widely unacceptable for international trade. However, that situation may be set to change in the European Union (EU).
At the end of May, agriculture ministers of the EU agreed on a strategic approach to the prevention and control of HPAI through the development of vaccination. This is seen as a complementary control measure to protect domestic poultry — in addition to continued biosecurity and other existing control measures.
To progress the actions, ministers called for member states to update risk assessments, and to develop vaccination strategies that target particularly vulnerable areas, poultry types, and farming systems. Furthermore, EU countries are urged to carry out vaccination trials, and to share the results with others within the region.
In recent weeks, it was reported that trials are already taking place in France to assess the efficacy of HPAI vaccines in ducks and geese.
In order to ensure adequate stocks for future outbreaks, the agriculture ministers called for the European Commission (EC) to explore options such as pooled purchasing of vaccines, and the establishment of a vaccine bank.
In order to preempt immediate bans of exports of European poultry from vaccinated flocks, ministers called for discussions with trade partners to agree the acceptability of HPAI vaccination for international trade.
20 European states register outbreaks in poultry in 2022
As of May 27, 1,732 HPAI outbreaks have been registered across Europe so far in 2022. This is according to the latest update of the Animal Disease Information System by the EC.
To date in 2022, one or more outbreaks have occurred in 20 European countries over this period. This includes Slovakia, which registered its first outbreak of the year in domestic birds at the end of May.
This year’s figure looks likely soon to overtake the total of 1,756 outbreaks registered with the EC by 24 European states throughout 2021.
Of the 57 new outbreaks since the previous update on May 20, the highest increase — 41 — was recorded in France. Now with 1,334 outbreaks, France continues to be the European state worst affected by disease this year. Now with a total of 190, Hungary has registered Europe’s second highest outbreak total for 2022 so far. Next comes the Netherlands with an unchanged 35.
In addition, 14 new outbreaks have been registered with the EC by Germany, and one by Kosovo.
Latest HPAI situation in poultry in Hungary, Slovakia
Over the past week, Hungary’s animal health authority has official registered 13 new outbreaks of HPAI on poultry farms. According to the official notifications to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), these involved around 193,000 birds. Largest flock to be infected comprised 66,800 birds.
So far, HPAI has been confined to three southern Hungarian counties, and one county in the northeast. Latest to be affected were three flocks of each of laying hens, meat turkeys, foie-gras geese, and fattening geese, and one of goose breeders.
As with the great majority of HPAI outbreaks across Europe since the start of the 2021-2022 winter, the H5N1 virus serotype has been detected.
While Hungary has reported 190 outbreaks so far this year to the EC, WOAH has been notified of 167 in these four counties since mid-April. These have directly impacted more than 2.84 million commercial poultry.
Meanwhile, Slovakia’s veterinary authority has provided more detail on the country’s first outbreak in poultry this year. Affected was a backyard flock of 35 poultry in the southwestern region of Nitra. Source of the infection is unknown, according to the WOAH report. Last reported H5N1 HPAI outbreak was late last year.
Further outbreaks in western European flocks
In France, HPAI has brought the poultry industry to an unprecedented crisis.
The number of confirmed HPAI outbreaks on commercial farms has risen to 1,386 (as of June 1).
This is an increase of four from the previous update of the agriculture ministry on May 24. All were registered in departments with high numbers of previous outbreaks — Vendée and Maine-et-Loire in the western region of Pays de la Loire, and Landes in Nouvelle Aquitaine in the south-west.
No new cases were reported among French backyard flocks, and the total remains at 35.
In the United Kingdom (U.K.), two additional HPAI outbreaks in poultry have been reported to the OIE.
First of these was in a backyard flock in central England in mid-May. Around one week later, the virus was detected at a small farm on the Island of Whalsay in Shetland, off the northeast coast of Scotland.
Additionally, at the end of May, a further outbreak was confirmed by the agriculture department, Defra at Ludlow in the western English county of Shropshire.
More HPAI cases in European wild birds
For the year to date, HPAI outbreaks in wild birds across Europe reported to the EC notification system have reached 1,794 (as of May 27). A total of 31 countries in the region have registered at least one outbreak in wild species through this system.
This represents an increase of 48 from the position on May 20. Of these, 15 were reported by Iceland, and 12 by Germany. Germany now accounts for 894 of the region’s total.
Also confirming with the EC new outbreaks over the previous week were Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, and Spain.
Not covered by the EC is the U.K. (with the exception of Northern Ireland). Over the past week, a further 16 cases in wild birds have been recorded with the OIE.
For the whole of 2021, 2,437 HPAI outbreaks in wild birds were registered with the EC’s system — also by 31 European states.
In the United States and Canada, more than a week has passed since animal health officials have reported any confirmed cases of HPAI in commercial poultry flocks.