Chickens in a gardenLibrary image © FLPA/Rex Shutterstock

France has reported its first case of high pathogenic avian influenza since 2007, with the H5N1 strain confirmed in a flock of 32 backyard hens in the Dordogne in the south-west of the country.

According to a statement from the World Organisation for Animal Health in Paris, the birds first showed symptoms on 14 November, with the exact strain identified on 24 November.

Some 22 birds died from the disease, indicating a 69% mortality.

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A statement from French agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll said the exact source of the infection was unknown.

“The sequencing of the strain is ongoing, but it seems it is a strain already detected in Europe, which until now has presented as low pathogenic,” said the statement.

The government has established a 3km protection zone and a 10km surveillance zone around the infected premises, in keeping with European and international law.

Swift action was needed to prevent the disease from spreading, the statement added.

The ministry of agriculture was also working in partnership with the ministry of health to ascertain any risk to humans.

But both stressed that avian influenza was not transferable to humans by the consumption of meat, eggs or foie gras pate.

Accoding to the Bloomberg news agency, the village of Biras in the Dorgogne, where the infected premises lies, is “in the heart of foie gras country”.

Producers are concerned that the outbreak has occurred just ahead of the festive season, with about half of all annual sales of foie gras made in the month of December.

H5N1 was last reported in the EU in March, with cases in Bulgaria and Romania.