Greece outbreak of H5N6 bird flu is first in Europe

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

How the new bird flu strain traveled from Asia to Greece remains unclear
How the new bird flu strain traveled from Asia to Greece remains unclear

Related tags Europe Livestock Poultry

Greece has reported Europe’s first outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (AI) strain H5N6, which hitherto had only been seen in Asia.

The new strain of a listed disease in the country was confirmed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), which said the source of the outbreak remained inconclusive.

The outbreak of a new AI strain could not come at a worse time for the European poultry industry. The sector has been rocked by massive outbreaks of the H5N8 AI strain​, which has seen 18 countries across the continent cull millions of birds to fight the disease, first detected in mid-October.

Around 60 birds have been culled after the disease was detected in a backyard poultry farm in north-west Greece. This region borders the European countries of Albania and Macedonia.

First outbreak in Europe

There was some confusion over the disease with the outbreak mistakenly reported as the highly pathogenic AI strain H5N8 on 16 February. Further laboratory tests confirmed late last week that it was in fact the H5N6 strain detected in Greece.

The country has erected a host of control measures to prevent the disease from spreading, including: transportation restrictions, surveillance and protection zones around the outbreak area as well official disposal of carcases, by-products and waste.

Outbreaks of the H5N6 AI strain​ have been flaring up in Asia since 2014, with China, Laos, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Myanmar all reporting the strain.

In China, the disease has been linked to more than a dozen human infections with at least four deaths​, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Geographically, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is the closest country to Greece that has reported the H5N6 AI strain. But at nearly 7,000 kilometres away, how the disease managed to end up in Europe remains unclear.

The OIE could not be reached for comment at the time of writing.

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