THE UK’S commercial poultry flock has been the hardest hit by avian influenza (AI) this Autumn in Europe, both for the number of cases on farms and the total number of birds culled.
The figures were collated by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), covering the period from 10 September to 2 December 2022.
There were 398 outbreaks in domestic poultry in 18 European countries, with 115 occurring in the UK – or 29% of the total.
In total, 9.8 million birds were culled across Europe, and nearly half – 4.05 million – were in the United Kingdom.
The Netherlands experienced 25 outbreaks, leading to the culling of 1.7 million birds, while France had 98 outbreaks and culled 1.3 million birds.
The number of new cases in the UK has slowed in recent weeks, but farms continue to be hit by the virus.
A housing order is in place for poultry in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but Scotland is yet to declare one despite several cases in the country.
Efsa compiles outbreak data for EU countries and the UK quarterly, and in its previous report covering the summer months, there were just 63 recorded outbreaks in domestic poultry.
However, that is still higher than previous years when cases tail off to nothing in the summer.
“The ongoing HPAI epidemic is the largest ever observed in Europe,” Efsa concludes.
50 million birds
“In the first year of the epidemic, which ran from October 2021 to September 2022, a total of 2,520 outbreaks in poultry, 227 in captive birds, and 3,867 detections in wild birds were notified in 37 European countries.
“Some 50 million birds were culled in affected farms.
“The unusual persistence of HPAI in wild birds and poultry throughout the summer of 2022 means that for the first time there was no clear separation between the end of the first year of the epidemic and the beginning of this year’s HPAI season, which began in October 2022.”
Efsa is currently assessing the availability of vaccines against HPAI for poultry and considering potential vaccination strategies.
The outcome of this work, to which the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and EURL are also contributing, will be available in the second half of 2023.
Efsa’s report in full can be found here