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Bird Flu Spreading in Europe and Asia, Humans Found Infected As Well

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The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has received multiple reports from countries in Asia and Europe regarding a recent spread of bird flu, giving rise to concerns that the virus may be spreading again.

Bird flu, or avian influenza, is a viral disease that affects both domestic and wild birds. The virus has also been isolated from mammals including dogs, cats, mice, horses and humans. Certain strains are more prevalent in specific regions of the world.

Multi-region bird flu outbreaks usually result in mass culling and trade restrictions. The disease can be transmitted to humans and epidemiologists have started taking note of an H5N6 variant that has so far been reported in 21 people in China.

Though hundreds of people on the mainland were infected with the H7N9 variant in 2019, the latest subtype is causing concern as many of these people are critically ill and at least six have reportedly died of the disease.

“The increase in human cases in China this year is of concern. It’s a virus that causes high mortality,” Thijs Kuiken, professor of comparative pathology at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, told Reuters.

The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, said that there have been no cases of human-to-human transmission, and most of the incidents involved people being in contact with poultry. China is the world’s largest poultry producer.

The OIE on Monday reported a mass culling of 770,000 birds at a South Korean poultry farm in Chungcheongbuk-do.

There was also an outbreak in the northeast of Japan. The variant found there was H5N8. Almost 143,000 chickens were exterminated in Akita Prefecture, according to a statement from the agriculture ministry. There was a restricted zone set up in a 6.2-mile radius from the farm.

The ministry has temporarily suspended all exports of chicken meat and eggs from the country. The statement also mentioned that there isn’t “any possibility of avian influenza being transmitted to humans through the consumption of chicken.”

In Europe, Norway reported an H5N1 bird flu outbreak in the Rogaland region in a flock of 7,000 birds. H5N1 is highly pathogenic, and all of the birds were slaughtered. Outbreaks usually happen during the autumn season, when wild birds migrate, spreading the disease.

The Belgian government has ordered for all poultry to remain indoors as a highly contagious variant of bird flu was found in a wild goose near Antwerp. France and the Netherlands have followed suit as they remain on high alert.

“Since the beginning of August, 130 bird flu cases or clusters have been detected in wild animals or on farms in Europe,” the French ministry said in a statement. France had to cull almost 3 million birds in the past year due to the spread of avian influenza from wild birds to poultry flocks.

The contagious disease has been seen in farms in Kuwait where authorities are reportedly taking measures to prevent mass circulation. Besides this, an 18-year-old boy was found to have contracted H5N1 in northern India in June.

Bird flu viruses can spread through contact with secretions from infected birds, and through contaminated water and feed.

Naveen Athrappully

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