Avian flu reappears in Spain after an explosion of cases in the EU
It is still a mystery how the bird flu virus in a turkey farm in Fuenterrebollo (Segovia). “This is a model farm,” said the general director of Agricultural Production of Castilla y León, after the first inspection, Agustin Alvarez. But it was a matter of time before the virus reached Spain, according to experts. The circulation in Europe of a highly transmissible strain, H5N1, capable of making the leap from species to humans, has set off alarms. And even with all the precautions, no one rules out the emergence of new outbreaks.
The Fuenterrebollo outbreak, which has affected about 18,900 bucks, is the first in a farm in Spain since 2017.
However, this year four other outbreaks have already been found in wild birds, in the provinces of Lérida, Palencia and two in Ávila. Surveillance has been increased, but the challenge is great with a virus that spreads with the natural migration of birds, capable of traveling thousands of kilometers and spreading the disease through different territories.
“As long as it stays in the wild, bad, but it’s almost a law of life. The problem is that the virus spreads to a farm,” he explains. John Joseph Badiola, director of the Center for Encephalopathies and Emerging Transmissible Diseases of the University of Zaragoza, who points out that new outbreaks are not ruled out. “It doesn’t look good. In Europe there has been a very large spread, “he says.
at high risk
The Ministry of Agriculture declared the high risk of avian ‘influenza’ in Spain last December, in view of the evolution in neighboring countries. In the last three months of 2021, Europe has registered 867 outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza and millions of birds have been affected, according to data published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Italy was the country that was having the most problems on farms, but in recent weeks France is also experiencing a real increase in cases, with 151 farms affected, of which two thirds are in the Landes department, in the south of the country. and very close to the border with Spain.
“We feared that it would arrive,” he admits. Natalia Majó, director of the Animal Health program at the Animal Health Research Center (IRTA-CReSA), although she clarifies: «What should be valued is that the virus has not entered the farms before. We have had cases in migratory birds in the European Union since the end of summer and there were no cases here.” Because, considering the high density of farms that exist, the registered case is hardly representative, he says.
“Biosecurity is good, although sometimes the virus can escape and the turkeys [junto con la gallina y el pollo] they are highly susceptible,” he says. The case of France, for example, would be different. In the affected area there is a high density of ducks and geese breeding, which do not always show symptoms, which makes control difficult, he explains.
But you always have to look carefully at H5N1, explains Badiola. It is highly contagious and causes considerable mortality among birds. But, in addition, it may have the ability to overcome the species barrier and make the leap to humans, it presents an important mutation facility and, in addition, it can be recombined. That is, generate mixed flu viruses. However, contagion to humans is not easy. Close, direct and lasting contact is needed for it to occur. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) rates the risk of transmission to people as ‘low’, and among those who have this type of close contact, such as farmers or veterinarians, as medium-low.
“At the beginning of the last decade there was a global outbreak, which did not reach a pandemic, but almost. Little affected humans, but many birds. Then there was already talk of the danger of human transmission, although it was very limited, ”explains the expert.
This season, only one human infection has been reported on the continent, registered in the United Kingdom: a 79-year-old man who, according to the ‘Daily Mail’ newspaper, had 160 ducks that he fed in his garden. About twenty of them lived inside his house.
“We must be calm at this time. There is no imminent risk of a pandemic, “said the president of the Council of Professional Associations of Veterinarians of Castilla y León, Luciano Diez Diez. Poultry farmers have taken extreme measures. Breeding in the open air is not allowed –to reduce contact with wild birds–, water sources are controlled and two containment rings have also been established around the affected farm, in which the animals are immobilized. But the next few months will be a challenge. According to EFTA, avian flu will continue to pose a risk to the poultry industry in Europe in the coming months.