The French Ministry of Agriculture announced today the confirmation of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 in chickens in the Dordogne department in southwestern France, according to a news release (computer translated). This is the first such outbreak in France since 2007.

Public domain image/Ben Rudiak-Gould
Public domain image/Ben Rudiak-Gould

“An abnormal mortality had led to the taking of samples for analysis by the Departmental Directorate of Population Protection,”ministry officials noted.

The sequencing of the strain is underway but it seems to be of a strain already detected in Europe, which until then had an low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) profile.

French Minister of Agriculture Stephane Le Foll immediately instructed his services to enable the national health emergency response plan in accordance with European and international rules. Protection zones and surveillance of 3 km and 10 km respectively for livestock are implemented.

In addition, monitoring of both livestock and wildlife will be stepped up.

The Animal Health Advisory Committee will have an emergency meeting on Nov. 26 to discuss the application of protection measures against the avian influenza.

According to the World Health Organization, H5N1 is a type of influenza virus that causes a highly infectious, severe respiratory disease in birds called avian influenza (or “bird flu”). Human cases of H5N1 avian influenza occur occasionally, but it is difficult to transmit the infection from person to person. When people do become infected, the mortality rate is about 60%.

The UN agency and Ministry of Agriculture also note that it is safe to eat properly prepared and cooked poultry and game birds. The virus is sensitive to heat. Normal temperatures used for cooking (so that food reaches 70°C in all parts) will kill the virus. As a standard precaution, WHO recommends that poultry, poultry products and wild game birds should always be prepared following good hygienic practices, and that poultry meat should be properly cooked.

Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch

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