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Freed from coronavirus, Asian poultry farmers fight outbreaks of bird flu

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By Rajendra Jadhav and Yuka Obayashi

Mumbai / Tokyo (Reuters)-Asian poultry farmers are facing the worst bird flu outbreaks in the region in years, a deadly virus affecting farms spreading from Japan to India, poultry prices Soaring and showing no signs of easing.

Since November, more than 20 million chickens have been destroyed in South Korea and Japan. The highly pathogenic H5N8 virus reached India, the world’s sixth-largest producer, last week and has already been reported in 10 states.

Avian influenza is common in Asia during this period due to migratory bird patterns, but new strains of the virus have evolved to become more deadly in wild birds, making countries on the flight path particularly vulnerable. Experts say.

Graphics: Country of outbreak of bird flu-https: //graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-BIRDFLU/OUTBREAKS/xegvbennrpq/chart.png

“This is one of the worst outbreaks ever in India,” said Mohinder Oberoi, an Indian animal health expert and former adviser to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

“There are many illnesses in crows and ducks. People are afraid of crow illnesses. They know they are flying far and think they can infect poultry and even people.”

Outbreaks in Asia occur when Europe suffers from the worst bird flu outbreaks in years and, following COVID-19, early sale of poultry in several places amid concerns about false illness. However, the increase in home-cooked food is currently boosting demand.

Graphics: Total Bird Flu Incidence by Country and Region-https: //fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/yxmpjygxavr/HPAIByCountry.png

Chicken prices in India fell almost one-third last week as vigilant consumers, who have been sick since the pandemic, avoided meat.

Bird flu cannot infect people through poultry consumption, and although it is not known that the H5N8 virus has transmitted to humans, consumers are still afraid, a poultry company based in the western city of Nasik. Uddhav Ahire, chairman of the Anand Agro Group, said.

He said the price of live chickens is already low at 58 Indian rupees ($ 0.79) per kilogram, below production costs.

Market impacts have yet to be seen in South Korea and Japan, and demand for home-cooked chicken during lockdowns will increase, which will have a significant impact on prices, officials said.

Virus evolution

The rapid and widespread geographic spread of recent outbreaks has made this one of the worst waves in Asia since the early 2000s.

New cases are still occurring in Japan, where outbreaks have been reported in just two months at a distance of more than 1,000 km (620 miles) from Chiba near Tokyo to Miyazaki in Kyushu.

“The wild bird migration season lasts until March, and in some cases until April, which does not reduce the risk of further spread of bird flu,” said an animal health official at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Graphics: Outbreaks of Japanese bird flu by prefecture-https: //graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-BIRDFLU/JAPAN/qzjpqdwyavx/Bird-flu-Japan.jpg

The H5N8 virus detected in Japan and South Korea is very similar to the virus that spread throughout Europe in 2019, and evolved from the virus that prevailed in 2014, the FAO Cross-Border Animal Disease Emergency Center (FAO) Filip Claes, Head of ECTAD), said.

Another variant that has been endemic in Europe since late 2020 has also caused serious damage.

Holly Shelton, an influenza expert at the Pillbright Institute in the United Kingdom, said the new strain is now more deadly to wild birds and is causing more harm.

“It’s clear that the virus has settled in wild bird populations and is now more likely to return to poultry farms and spill,” she said.

Graphics: World Chicken Production-https: //fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/yzdvxgywdpx/WorldPoultryJan2021.png

Forced influenza vaccination of poultry in China protected the region’s top producers, even though the virus killed wild swans there.

Indonesia, Asia’s second-largest producer, is only a temporary transit point for wild birds, reducing the risk of infection, said Fadjar Sumping Tjatur Rassa, director of animal health at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Nevertheless, he said, the country banned the import of live birds from the H5N8 country and set up a surveillance system for early detection of the virus.

Countries such as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have traditionally escaped the outbreak of H5N8 due to the lack of major bird flight routes in Southeast Asia, but face the risks of moving people and goods.

“It will continue to spread until another virus arrives,” Shelton said.

(Report by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai, Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo, Dominique Patton in Beijing. Additional report by Sangmi Cha in Seoul and Bernadette Christina in Jakarta. Written by Dominique Patton. Edited by Richard Pullin)

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