Europe and UK hit by ‘unprecedented’ number of bird flu cases this summer | bird flu

The UK and continental Europe have been hit by an “unprecedented” number of bird flu cases this summer, with 47.7 million birds culled since last fall, according to new figures.

Poultry producers from as far north as Norway’s Svalbard Islands to southern Portugal have collectively reported nearly 2,500 outbreaks of the disease since last year.

Thousands of outbreaks have also been recorded in wild birds, according to the latest update from the EU’s European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the European Food Safety Authority and the EU Reference Laboratory. The virus reached seabird breeding colonies on the North Atlantic coast and killed huge numbers.

In recent years, bird flu outbreaks have abated with warmer weather and the end of wild bird migration in the fall and winter.

But there have been outbreaks in the UK and elsewhere in Europe this summer, raising fears that highly pathogenic variants of avian flu are now endemic to wild birds, posing a year-round risk of infection.

From June to September, the number of outbreaks in domestic birds was more than five times higher than in the same period last year. Experts say that all kinds of bird species have now become infected, causing the virus to persist.

Outbreaks have also crossed the Atlantic, spreading from Europe to North America along migratory routes and resulted in the culling of millions of poultry in the US and Canada.

Disease experts say outbreaks could get worse this winter.

“As autumn migration begins and numbers of wild birds overwintering in Europe increase, they are likely to be at higher risk for HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] infection than previous years due to the observed persistence of the virus in Europe,” said Guilhem de Seze, head of risk assessment at the European Food Safety Authority.

Year-round infections in the UK and Europe can result in free-range hens being housed indoors.

Veterinary trials to test bird flu vaccines have started in France and the Netherlands, but there are questions about the effectiveness of vaccines against bird flu and whether vaccinated birds can still spread the disease if infected.

The European Commission has said it wants to allow eggs produced in the EU to be labeled “free range”, even if birds are kept indoors.

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