‘Highly pathogenic’ strain of bird flu confirmed in Netherlands

A highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza (bird flu) has been detected among wild birds in the Netherlands.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue said this evening (Wednesday, October 28), that two cases of the bird flu subtype H5N8 were confirmed in that country.

The minister highlighted the need to review biosecurity practices as “we move into a higher risk period for avian influenza”.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has said that, although this strain of bird flu can cause serious disease in poultry and other birds, there is no record of humans becoming infected and, therefore, the risk to humans is considered very low.

Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

The first of these two confirmed cases was identified in a mute swan which was found dead in the Groene Hart region of central Netherlands on October 20, with the second case being confirmed in a Eurasian widgeon on October 26.

In Ireland, the avian influenza H5N8 subtype was last found in wild birds in 2016 and 2017, when it was confirmed in 12 birds, including Eurasian widgeons; mute and whooper swans; and a grey heron.

An early warning system is in place with Birdwatch Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC) with regard to surveillance for signs of disease in wild birds.

This time of year, wild birds which can carry avian influenza viruses traditionally migrate along the East Atlantic Flyway from colder parts of northern and eastern Europe to western European countries, including Ireland.

The department highlighted that the virus can spread from the wild bird population to poultry farms through direct contact and in particular through faeces from wild birds infected with the virus. Biosecurity measures should be implemented on poultry farms to mitigate the risk of avian influenza in poultry flocks.

In particular, flock owners are advised to feed and water birds inside or under cover where wild birds cannot gain access, and suitable fencing should be placed around outdoor areas. This applies to all flocks, irrespective of size.

Minister McConalogue emphasised that flock owners should remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their flocks, and report any disease suspicion to their nearest department veterinary office.