PARIS (Reuters) - Outbreaks of bird flu detected in the past two weeks in Germany, the Netherlands and Britain could be linked and may have been spread by migrating wild birds, the head of the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) said on Monday.
All three countries have reported cases of highly pathogenic bird flu which pose a risk to birds but not human health. The Netherlands detected the outbreak over the weekend and Germany earlier this month.
Both said it was the H5N8 strain, which has never been detected in humans but led to the culling of millions of farm birds in Asia, mainly South Korea, earlier this year. Dutch authorities decided to cull 150,000 chickens at the affected farm.
It was still unclear whether the cases found at a duck farm in England were the same strain. Britain’s chief veterinary officer said it was an H5 virus but not H5N1 which has killed hundreds of people.
When asked if the outbreaks were linked, OIE Director General Bernard Vallat said: “Theoretically it’s possible. We will know this — through the genetic characteristics we can know the ties between the virus, but it takes a bit of time.”
As migratory birds could spread the virus over huge distances, he added: “It could appear anywhere at any time.”
“Every time Europe has been contaminated to date it has been through migrating birds. It is hard to protect farms from wild birds. They are often attracted by food and other birds,” Vallat told Reuters in an interview.
“If feed is not protected and a wild bird comes to eat it, it’s enough to contaminate the feed and then those that eat that feed.”
An OIE official added later that the European outbreaks could be linked to the Asian ones.
Vallat said correct inspection procedures could stem the outbreaks.
“An early detection including veterinarians can avoid a spread of the disease in farms. It is the secret.”
The Netherlands, the world’s leading egg exporter, imposed a 72-hour ban on transportation of poultry products, a precautionary measure that Vallat said was extremely strict.
“The Germans were right not to do the same,” he said.
Editing by Gus Trompiz and Robin Pomeroy