Highly pathogenic avian influenza has continued its spread, with Italy the latest country to have a case of the H5N8 strain in a flock of turkeys, and Germany reporting its second case.
This brings to four the number of EU countries affected – with the Netherlands and the UK also hit – and are the seventh and eighth confirmed cases in the EU since early November.
See also: Bird flu protection zone lifted
The latest outbreak in Italy occurred on a turkey fattening unit in Porto Viro, near Venice. According to a report from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), mortality reached 3.81% on the farm, in a flock of 31,985 birds.
Culling began on 16 December as part of a “stamping out” policy, and restriction zones were established.
The second German case has appeared on a turkey farm in Lower Saxony, the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health has confirmed. It is the same H5N8 strain previously found on a turkey farm in north-east Germany.
Federal agriculture minister, Christian Schmidt, has appealed to all poultry farmers to step up their biosecurity to prevent further spread.
Outside of Europe, recent AI outbreaks have occurred in the USA (H5N2 in wild ducks and H5N8 in a captive falcon), Canada (H5N2 in five flocks of broiler breeders and turkeys in British Columbia), Japan (H5N8 in a wild crane), and India (H5N1 in a flock of 5,974 ducks in the far south of the country).
But, according to the European Food Safety Authority, the route of infection in Europe remains uncertain.
“It is plausible that the virus has entered poultry farms indirectly, through material contaminated by infected wild birds – such as human activities, movement of vehicles or equipment,” it says.
“As all affected farms use indoor housing facilities, experts conclude that a direct transmission from wild birds to farmed poultry is unlikely.”
There are no known direct migration routes from East Asia to Europe, it adds. “One hypothesis is that infected migratory birds from East Asia transmit the virus to other species at breeding and stopover places in Eurasia, but this hypothesis needs further investigation.”
Animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming recently urged people not make wild birds a scapegoat when looking for the source of H5N8.
“The risk of simply blaming wild birds is twofold,” it said. “First, it could divert attention and resources away from other issues, such as the fact that intensive indoor farms are ideal incubators for avian influenza.
“Second, there is a danger that some may call for a cull of wild birds, which would have serious consequences not only for those birds, but also for the ecosystems they are part of.”