ROME, Jan. 4 (Xinhua) — Poultry farmers across Europe have been forced to cull their flocks in the latest effort to slow the spread of highly contagious bird flu on the continent.
On Wednesday, Swedish authorities announced that they would cull approximately 165,000 chickens on a single farm in the south of the country following a salmonella outbreak.
– We have decided to euthanize the animals before the hedge is cleared and new animals are reintroduced, says Katharina Gielen, head of disease control and prevention at Sweden’s Agricultural Agency, to Xinhua.
In the Czech Republic, it was announced this week that more than 750,000 chickens on a cluster of farms in the western part of the country had been slaughtered for similar reasons.
“Despite the measures taken and all efforts, it was not possible to prevent the spread of the highly contagious poultry disease to other areas,” the country’s state veterinary administration said.
Meanwhile, France is reportedly considering widespread vaccination of its chicken and turkey populations.
Tens of millions of birds across Europe are reportedly being kept indoors as a precautionary measure, increasing maintenance costs and increasing the risk of a rapid spread if some of these populations become infected.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said an outbreak of avian influenza (otherwise known as bird flu) between October 2021 and September 2022 was the “most devastating” the continent had ever seen, with around 2,500 outbreaks reported in 37 European countries.
The disease, known scientifically as bird flu H5N1, was first recorded in 1879 and has seen periodic outbreaks ever since.
Transmission from birds to humans is relatively rare, although in November 2021 it was announced that two farm workers in Spain had tested positive for bird flu. It was only the second case of transmission of the disease to humans in Europe since 2003. The health risk to the workers, aged 19 and 27, was not considered serious.
But there is also a risk of illness – and even death – among those who consume chicken or turkey meat, or eggs from chickens that have been infected with bird flu.
The widespread culling is likely to increase inflationary pressures in European countries. Prices have already risen to record levels in recent months, triggered by rising fuel costs and supply problems due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.