The H5N1 strain of bird flu has been confirmed in France. This follows reports of an outbreak on a duck farm in the eastern region of Ain.
Suspicions were raised after an abnormal number of deaths were recorded at the Saint-Nizier-le-Desert location. According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), 10,600 ducks have since been slaughtered, following confirmation of the disease.
Officials have instigated a decontamination process, with a three-kilometer perimeter set up around the farm to prevent further nationwide transmission. Meanwhile, an epidemiological investigation has been launched to try to uncover the source of the contamination.
Farm owners throughout France are now being asked to follow strict protocols to limit bird movements while the outbreak is contained.
What’s causing the bird flu?
Transmission is widely accepted to come from wild birds that carry the bird flu virus and then infect domestic poultry. This can be through direct contact or contact with contaminated substances, including saliva, mucus, and feces.
Previously, migratory birds have been suggested as a major cause of France’s continued contamination woes. However, a rise in domestic wildlife cases is alarming officials.
“Before, bird flu outbreaks were caused by migrating birds, but now we see that there are more and more cases in French wildlife. This is new and it worries farmers and the whole poultry industry,” Jean-Michel Schaeffer, chairman of French poultry industry group Anvol told Reuters.
France’s previous bird culls
As the EU’s second-largest poultry producer, France remains on high alert when bird flu circulates. The latest outbreak comes just three months after country-wide restrictions on poultry production were lifted. This followed extensive animal culling to stem contamination from various strains of bird flu. No new cases had been reported since May 17.
Since November 2021, more than 16 million birds have been slaughtered as a result of 1,378 individual outbreaks of the highly contagious disease.
The risk of transmission to humans
The poultry industry is notorious for housing large numbers of animals together, with little regard for animal welfare. Such cramped, hot, and ill-maintained facilities provide the perfect breeding grounds for disease transmission and even mutation, giving rise to fears of new strains of bird flu being discovered or causing the next pandemic.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu is capable of infecting multiple species, including humans, as seen in January when the UK confirmed its first human case of avian influenza. Though the risk of bird-to-human transmission remains low, experts say there is scope for the situation to worsen, due to growing fears over antibiotic resistance.
Factory farms routinely use antibiotics not only to treat confirmed diseases but also as a preventative measure. This allows bacteria to adapt and evolve to become resilient to pharmaceutical interventions. The long-term consequences could include a future where many human infections can no longer be effectively treated.