Europe 1 with AFP 12:13 p.m., November 28, 2023

An outbreak of avian influenza, the "first of autumn 2023" in France, has been identified in a farm in Morbihan, announced Tuesday the Ministry of Agriculture, while the risk level has been raised from "negligible" to "moderate".

The Ministry of Agriculture announced on Tuesday that it was raising the risk related to avian flu from "negligible" to "moderate" in the face of the spread of the virus in wildlife and the detection of a first outbreak in a French farm for autumn 2023.

A decree published on Tuesday morning in the Official Journal "raises the level of risk from 'negligible' to 'moderate' throughout the metropolitan territory," the ministry said in a statement, adding that it "has the effect of strengthening prevention and biosecurity measures for the livestock sectors but also for hunters." "This measure is taken while an outbreak in livestock has just been registered in France in Morbihan, first case of autumn 2023," said the Ministry of Agriculture in a statement.

Sheltering of all poultry in special risk areas

The epizootic risk to poultry and other captive birds from infection of wild birds with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses is classified into three categories: "negligible", "moderate" and "high".

In concrete terms, the move to the "moderate" risk level translates into sheltering all poultry in special risk zones (PRZs) or palmipeds less than 42 days old in areas at risk of spread (ZRD) of farms by wildlife. All vehicles carrying poultry must also be covered with tarpaulins and restrictions put in place regarding "gatherings of poultry and captive birds". In addition, "the transport and use of calling birds" for hunting is also restricted, the ministry said in its statement.

48 outbreaks of avian influenza detected in Europe since 1 August

Avian influenza, which is rampant in Europe, Asia, Africa and Asia, has led to the euthanasia of tens of millions of poultry in recent years in France. This risk from this virus had been lowered to "negligible" in July. Before that, France had remained at "high" risk level from November 2022, before falling back to "moderate" in April.

The decree in the Official Journal specifies that the decision to raise the level of risk was taken "following the evidence of a dynamic of infection in migratory wild fauna in neighbouring countries". "For several weeks now, Europe has been recording a dynamic spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus in migratory wildlife (greylag geese and geese in particular) but also in farms in Northern Europe (Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands) and Central Europe, particularly in Hungary," the Ministry of Agriculture said.

According to the latest weekly bulletin from the French animal health epidemiological surveillance platform, 48 outbreaks of avian influenza have been detected in Europe since 1 August, mainly in the United Kingdom, Hungary and Bulgaria. Outbreaks have also recently emerged in Italy, "in an area with a high density of livestock farms".

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The cases detected concern "a number of countries (Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany in particular) located upstream of the migration routes that cross France," says the ministry. "The pressure of infection linked to migratory wildlife will therefore gradually increase in France," it added. At this stage, 4 common cranes in the Meuse and Camargue, as well as a herring gull in Morbihan have been confirmed as infected.

It was "close to the distance" of this gull that the very first contaminated farm was detected on Monday. It is a turkey farm in Morbihan and "all measures are being taken to manage this first outbreak in the autumn of 2023", the ministry said.

Mandatory vaccination against avian influenza on farms with more than 250 ducks

In the hope of finally controlling the virus, the government had also made vaccination against avian flu compulsory since 1 October in farms with more than 250 ducks, excluding breeding ducks. The "reinforced" measures linked to the increase in the risk level "complement" this campaign, the same source said.

Ducks have been identified as a vector for the spread of the virus in that they excrete it into the environment several days before showing symptoms. Highly pathogenic avian influenza affected France from 2015 to 2017 and then almost continuously since the end of 2020. Since the summer of 2021, 32 million poultry have been slaughtered in the country.