News item | 20-10-2022 | 08:00
Bird flu is now common all year round among wild and domesticated birds in the Netherlands. From October 2021 to today, there have been 98 outbreaks at sites with more than 50 birds across the country. In contrast to the past, companies were also infected in the summer. For example, in this bird flu year, the Dutch Food and Consumer Safety Authority has already removed more than 5.8 million slaughtered birds in infected places, including more than 1 million preventively.
In the NVWA podcast ‘The Inspector’ (can be listened to via Apple podcasts and Spotify), Senior Veterinary Inspector Léon Labout shares his experiences with avian flu and the clearance activities from the practice. In the Netherlands – after the 2003 epidemic with 255 infected sites and more than 30 million slaughtered animals – so many poultry farms and hobby sites in the Netherlands were infected. The virus also makes many victims in nature. “This situation is not sustainable. Not for the animals, not for poultry farmers, not for society,” says Piet Adema, Minister for Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality in his letter to the Danish Parliament. In light of the serious situation, he is working through an intensification plan to prevent bird flu, among other things to speed up a possible vaccination process and further improve biosecurity on farms.
Infections all year round
The bird flu year 2021-2022 started on 26 October last year with an infection with a new variant of the virus (H5N1) in Zeewolde. After 11 infections in November and December, half a million animals were put down by NVWA until the turn of the year. This year there were 87 positive cases at companies or hobby farms with more than 50 birds. The infections continued in the summer until a positive result today in Heythuysen (Leudal municipality) on a company with approximately 300,000 laying hens. Here is the biggest cull yet in the coming days. This brings the culling figure at 98 sites with established bird flu infections to 4.7 million animals. These are chickens, egg-laying hens, (broiler) ducks, turkeys, broilers and waterfowl. Infection and culling at hobby sites with fewer than 50 birds are not included here.
Also preventive culling
Since October 2021, birds on surrounding farms have also been culled as a precaution in 43 places because they were close to an infected place and on a number of farms that had had risky (personal) contact with an infected place. The number of preventively euthanized birds is now 1.1 million. The total number of animals that have been euthanized in this way under the direction of the NVWA due to avian influenza thus far stands at more than 5.8 million. The actual number is slightly higher because the number of kills at hobby sites with fewer than 50 birds is not included here.
Events with major consequences
NVWA works closely with various parties to combat this, including vets, the Animal Health Service, Rendac, transport companies, collection teams and in coordination with the reference laboratory WBVR, GGD, provinces, municipalities and safety regions. Many people are involved in slaughter. These are drastic events for the many animals that are killed, for poultry farmers, their families and the environment, and also for the employees involved in companies that help carry out the culling work.
Work quickly and carefully
In the podcast (30 min.), Labout discusses his role as supervising veterinarian during the culls. Together with the NVWA front team, he has been ready – day and night – for a year to strike in the event of a positive result of an infection. According to Labout, a quick notification of a suspicion, a quick confirmation and a quick and efficient approach to clearing is necessary: ’It’s about the balance between speed and care in clearing to inhibit further spread.’ In the podcast, he tells how a blanket of hot CO2 gas descends over the animals during gassing. This is done carefully and with consideration for animal welfare, where Labout checks in the barn whether the birds have died in a manner worthy of animals.
‘I never got used to it’
Dozens of people often work on a cull following a strict hygiene protocol, including a shower van and protective clothing, because the work is not without risk. Currently, culling is the only way to prevent worse: There is no cure and no approved vaccine against bird flu (yet). The podcast also focuses on the emotional impact on those involved. After preventive culling and recent contamination on his farm, poultry farmer Theo Bos says: ‘You never get used to it. It’s a rollercoaster where the chickens are gone two days after the results.’
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