Bird flu incidence in wild birds falling in EU

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Cases of avian influenza found in wild birds under a survelliance
programme are falling, according to data released by the European
Commission.

The results provide a sign of hope for food processors, who have seen sales of poultry products plummet in some countries as avian influenza slowly crept into the block, brought by wild birds and in some cases infecting domesticated poultry stocks.

Supplies from other countries have also been restricted. This week the Commission banned the import of all poultry and poultry products from Romania, for example.

The survey of wild birds; published from data collected by the EU's designated reference laboratory in Weybridge,the UK wascarried out in the European Union during the past 10 months.

The survey found that between February 2006 and 21 May 2006, 741 cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza , most of them confirmed as the deadly H5N1 strain, have been detected in wild birds in 13 member states - Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, France, Slovakia, Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and UK.

There have been four outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza in poultry in the EU, and all of these were swiftly eradicated following detection. No human case of the H5N1 virus has occurred in the EU.

There is considerable variation in the number of cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds, ranging from 326 in Germany to one found in the UK.

The peak in terms of the number of cases in wild birds was reached in March with 362 cases, compared to 200 in February, with cases declining to 162 in April and 17 in May.

The most commonly affected wild birds have been swans, representing 62.8 per cent of the total, followed by ducks (16.3 per cent), geese (4.5 per cent), birds of prey (3.9 per cent) and others (13 per cent).

Following the major geographical spread of the H5N1 avian influenza virus from South-East Asia in 2005, the EU has intensified its programmes for the surveillance and early detection of avian influenza, both in wild birds and poultry.

The bloc has released €2.9m to co-finance member states' surveillance programmes until December 2006. Guidelines on beefed up surveillance for avian influenza in wild birds were also issued by the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health.

"Extensive surveillance for avianinfluenza in wild birds and poultry has been one of the key tools used by the EU to fend off the virus over the pastmonths,"​ statedMarkos Kyprianou, the EU commissioner for health and consumer protection. "It is a fundamental component in minimising the introduction and spread of this disease which poses a seriousthreat to animal and public health."

The spread of the virus in domestic poultry in Europe has heightened public fears about eating chicken. Consumption of poultry meat has dropped by more than half in some EU states, with 300,000 tonnes and more in storage across the bloc, according to previous EU estimates.

The continuing fight against the spread of avian influenza throughout Europe has focused on preventing the spread of the disease to domestic flocks from wild birds.

A total of 57 countries around the world have so far reported detecting the avian influenza strain, either in wild birds or domestic poultry.

Bird flu has killed 64 percent of those people known to be infected with the virus this year, according to World Health Organization statistics. There were 217 cases of infection and 123 deaths worldwide. Most of the deaths occurred in Asia. Earlier this year four died in Turkey.

Scientists worldwide are worried that the H5N1 form of the virus, which can be transmitted from poultry to humans, may mutate so that it can be transmitted from human to human and start a influenza pandemic.

Since the beginning of the recent avian flu crisis, consumption of poultry and eggs has fallen dramatically in some member states, leading to a sharp reduction in prices. In some countries, such as Italy, demand has fallen by up to 70 per cent, drastically lowering poultry farmers' incomes.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported that recent avian influenza outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Africa have caused dramatic swings in poultry consumption, increased trade bans and sharp price declines. The UN agency expects poultry consumption shocks this year in many countries.

"A steady erosion of previously expected gains in per caput poultry consumption will likely push down global poultry consumption in 2006, currently estimated at 81.8 million tonnes, nearly three million tonnes lower than the previous 2006 estimate of 84.6 million tonnes,"​ stated FAO commodity specialist Nancy Morgan.

According to the FAO report consumption shocks are ranging from a dramatic 70 per cent decline in Italy in mid-February to 20 per cent in France and 10 per cent in northern Europe.

The crisis has also affected the $42 billion dollar feed sector in Europe, with demand losses estimated at up to 40 per cent in some countries, the FAO stated.

Related topics: Food Outbreaks

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