Bird Flu outbreak: 5,500 chickens infected in north

The affected farm produces about 100,000 organic eggs every year, about 2.4% of the organic market.

 Workers in protective gear seen in Moshav Givat Yoav, in northern Israel, December 29, 2021, following an outbreak of avian influenza (photo credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)
Workers in protective gear seen in Moshav Givat Yoav, in northern Israel, December 29, 2021, following an outbreak of avian influenza
(photo credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)

About 5,500 chickens at an egg-laying farm in Barak, a moshav in northern Israel were found to be infected with H5N1 avian influenza, the Agriculture Ministry announced on Thursday.

The affected farm produces about 100,000 organic eggs every year, making up about 2.4% of the organic market.

Agriculture Minister Oded Forer instructed his office to raise the egg quotas for farmers in Israel and to open the market for imports due to expectations of an egg shortage in the coming months.

The Agriculture Minister is operating an inter-ministerial command room to handle to continuing bird flu outbreak in the country.

"We are running a rolling and complex event, which requires a lot of resources. I instructed the professional teams to continue to act by all available means and as necessary, in order to prevent the spread of virus outbreaks," said Forer on Thursday. "I call on the public to remain calm and to avoid excessive consumption. The egg containers will remain on shelves and we will increase the quantities as needed."

 A sign warns about the avian influenza in an area of Randers, Denmark November 17, 2020 (credit: VIA REUTERS) A sign warns about the avian influenza in an area of Randers, Denmark November 17, 2020 (credit: VIA REUTERS)

Hundreds of thousands of birds migrate through Israel on their way to Africa during this season, raising the risk of bird flu outbreaks. The Agriculture Ministry has called on all farmers to follow directives and ensure that their birds are kept separate from wild birds.

Since 2006, there have been cases of bird flu detected in Israel almost every year.

Amid the spike in bird flu outbreaks, the Health Ministry stressed that the public should only buy poultry and eggs from regulated places and ensure that eggs have a seal of inspection. The public should also make sure to properly, hygienically and thoroughly cook poultry and eggs and should keep distance from wild birds.

Israel's Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg announced on Wednesday that she is planning to cancel the rest of Israel's hunting season amid the ongoing outbreak of bird flu in an effort to prevent possible zoonotic transmissions. 

"The move is intended to prevent the outbreak from continuing and... to keep the hunters healthy from a dangerous and contagious disease, which can be fatal to humans," Zandberg said.

The outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in Israel triggered a state of emergency after multiple cases were detected.

Over 5,000 migratory cranes have died due to the virus in a continuing outbreak in the Hula Valley. A number of additional outbreaks have been reported at farms in northern Israel in recent weeks and months.

On Wednesday, the Nature and Parks Authority announced that the Ein Afek Nature Reserve would be closed to the public until January 4 in order to prevent the spread of the bird flu, after a sick pelican was located in the reserve. The Hai-Bar Carmel Nature Reserve has also been closed to the public until Friday in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

A high number of bird flu outbreaks have been reported throughout Europe, Africa and Asia in recent weeks, mostly due to the H5N1 subtype, according to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has urged countries to increase surveillance for high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks, as the virus has been reported in over 40 countries since July.

The H5N1, H5N3, H5N4, H5N5, H5N6 and H5N8 subtypes of HPAI are circulating in bird and poultry populations across the globe, sparking concern at OIE which called this an "unprecedented genetic variability of subtypes...creating an epidemiologically challenging landscape."

Germany's Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, the Friedrich Loeffler Institute, told the German Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) that Europe is experiencing its "strongest avian flu epidemic ever."

The institute added that "there is no end in sight" as the virus spreads throughout the continent and around the world, with new cases reported on a daily basis.

In a report published last week, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) stated that the risk of transmission to the general human population is assessed as low and to those working with birds as low to medium, adding that this assessement has "high uncertainty" due to the high diversity of avian influenza viruses circulating in bird populations.

Since the beginning of December, eight new cases of human infection of HPAI have been reported to the World Health Organization. All of the reported cases were from China and included two cases with the H9N2 subtype and six cases with the H5N6 subtype.

The increase in human infections caused by the H5N6 subtype of avian influenza is causing concern among experts, who say that a previously circulating strain appears to have changed and could be more infectious to people.

"The increase in human cases in China this year is of concern. It's a virus that causes high mortality," said Thijs Kuiken, professor of comparative pathology at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, to Reuters.

In most of the cases, the animals had come into contact with poultry, and there are no confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission, the WHO noted, which highlighted the rise in cases in a statement on Oct. 4. It said further that an investigation was "urgently" required to understand the risk and the increase in spillover to people.

"It could be that this variant is a little more infectious (to people)...or there could be more of this virus in poultry at the moment and that's why more people are getting infected," said Kuiken.

Reuters contributed to this report.