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Belgium reports first bird flu outbreak in seven years

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Oscar Rousseau

By Oscar Rousseau+


Belgium has ordered all poultry indoors to prevent more bird flu outbreaks
Belgium has ordered all poultry indoors to prevent more bird flu outbreaks

Europe’s struggle with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HAPI) has seen the disease breach Belgium, a country free from bird flu outbreaks for seven years.

The HAPI strain H5N8 was detected in a backyard holding in the Lebbeke province, a town under 30 kilometres from the Netherlands, a country that has culled more than 200,000 birds to combat bird flu.

No chickens have been infected by bird flu as the farm is not a commercial poultry operation, according to Belgium’s Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (AFSCA).

A disease update from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said the species of birds infected included goose, ducks, guinea fowl and pheasant. In total, 55 birds were humanely culled.

12 European countries hit with HAPI

Belgium last reported an outbreak of HAPI in April 2003, according to the OIE. Dr Jean-François Heymans, chief veterinary officer and OIE delegate for Belgium, said both HAPI and low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) had not been detected in seven years.

This is the first reported occurrence of the H5N8 strain in the country, but 11 European states have detected the disease in the last four months.

A 3km protection zone has been set up around the site of inspection. No professional poultry farms were in this area, AFSCA said.

Remain ‘vigilant’

All poultry producers have been ordered to keep their flocks indoors . If this is not possible, anyone keeping poultry outdoors should cover outdoor areas with protective nets to prevent contact with wild birds.

The virus that strongly affects neighbouring countries for several months now reached Belgium,” said Willy Borsus, a Belgium minister for small, independents, SMEs, agriculture and social integration in a statement realised by AFSCA.

At this stage, the professional sector is not affected, but we must remain very vigilant. Strict implementation of biosecurity measures is essential if this case [is to] remain isolated.

Belgium’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has urged any poultry holders to contact a veterinarian if a heightened mortality rate is detected.

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