A highly contagious and deadly form of bird flu is spreading rapidly across Europe and puts the poultry industry on alert. The disease has already been diagnosed in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden and, for the first time this week, in Croatia, Slovenia and Poland, after severely affecting Russia, Kazakhstan and Israel.
In the Netherlands, Europe's largest exporter of chicken meat and eggs, nearly 500,000 chickens died or were slaughtered due to the virus this fall, and more than 900,000 chickens died on a single farm in Poland this week, the ministries of the respective countries said. The number of dead birds in Russia reached 1.8 million at the end of October, with almost 1.6 million of that on a farm near Kazakhstan, data from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) showed.
The main strain found this year in Europe is H5N8, which decimated plantations in 2016/17, when the region recorded its biggest outbreak in domestic and wild birds. But there have also been reports of H5N5 and H5N1. Although the risk to humans is low, the European Food Safety Agency EFSA said this week that the evolution of the virus needed to be monitored closely. A strain of H5N1 is known to infect humans as well.