Unprecedented’ bird flu epidemic sees almost 50m birds culled across Europe

Poultry farmers from Arctic to Portugal reported 2,500 outbreaks in past year, with migrating birds taking avian flu to North America

The UK and continental Europe have been hit by an “unprecedented” number of cases of avian flu this summer, with 47.5m birds having been culled since last autumn, according to new figures.

Poultry producers from as far north as Norway’s Svalbard islands to southern Portugal have together reported almost 2,500 outbreaks of the disease since last year.

There have also been thousands of outbreaks recorded in wild birds, according to the latest update from the EU’s European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, European Food Safety Authority and the EU reference laboratory. The virus reached breeding colonies of sea birds on the north Atlantic coast, killing huge numbers.

In past years, outbreaks of avian flu declined with warmer weather and the end of migration by wild birds in the autumn and winter.

But outbreaks have continued across the UK and elsewhere in Europe this summer leading to fears that highly pathogenic variants of avian flu are now endemic in wild birds, creating a risk of infection all year.

From June to September, the number of outbreaks in domesticated birds was more than five times higher than the same period last year. Experts say all kinds of bird species have become infected now, causing the virus to remain.

Outbreaks have also crossed the Atlantic Ocean, spreading from Europe to North America along migration routes and leading to millions of poultry being culled in the US and Canada.

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