MS Risk Blog

Avian Influenza “Bird Flu” picking up steam in Bulgaria

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Three outbreaks of Avian influenza, better known as the “Bird Flu” have been detected in Bulgaria this spring and early summer with a total seven reported cases since October 2017. Bird flu can be divided into two main groups: highly pathogenic (HPAI) and low pathogenic (LPAI).  HPAI spreads rapidly causing serious disease with high mortality (up to 100% within 48 hours) in most poultry species (except domestic waterfowl). LPAI is much milder and may easily go undetected. The virulence of HPAI has prompted countries such as Saudi Arabia to bar poultry imports from Bulgaria.

On  5 March an outbreak  of the highly pathogenic H5N8 bird flu virus was reported on a farm in the town of General Toshevo, located near the border with Romania,  in the northeastern district of Dobrich. A three-kilometer protection zone and a 10-km observation area around the livestock area were set up and a ban on the trade and movement of domestic, wild and other birds and trade in eggs, had been imposed.The national food safety agency reported that the outbreak would lead to the death of 140,000 birds.

On 27 May another outbreak was reported on a duck farm in the northeastern village of Stefanovo. It was unclear which strain of bird flu it was. Again, the national food safety agency established a three-kilometer protection zone around the farm and the movement of domestic, wild and other birds and has been banned within it, as has the sale of eggs and poultry. It was the second outbreak at this farm, with the last outbreak taking place in October 2017 and resulted in the culling of more than 10,000 ducks.

On 13 June another outbreak was reported on a farm in the village of Donchevo, in northeastern Bulgaria. A three-kilometer protection zone was established and the national food safety agency reported that all contaminated birds would be culled.

On 15 June the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Rumen Porozhanov held working meetings with the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency and the directors of the regional food safety directorates in order to discuss how to properly respond, and prepare to the recent and future outbreaks of the bird flu and African swine fever, which has been detected 160 km away from the Bulgarian border with Romania.

In 2018 HPAI outbreaks of subtype H5N8 have been detected in poultry in Bulgaria and Italy. HPAI H5N6 has been confirmed in poultry in the Netherlands and Germany and in captive birds in Sweden. In wild birds only the subtype HPAI H5N6 has been identified in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, the Slovak Republic and several wild bird cases throughout the southern part of the United Kingdom.

Although typically difficult to transmit to humans, it is possible for the bird flu to jump across species and does occur occasionally. The most widely known form of bird flu to do this was the H5N1 strain which had a mortality rate of about 60% among the human cases. It has also been reported on 15 June that another deadly form of the virus, H7N9, has been detected in China and has reportedly already killed 623 of the 1,625 peopleinfected.