Bird flu outbreak spreads to 20% of Japan's prefectures

FILE PHOTO: Officials in protective suits head to a poultry farm for a suspected bird flu case in Higashikagawa, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo November 8, 2020. Picture taken November 8, 2020. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s worst-ever bird flu outbreak has spread to a new area and now affects almost 20% of the country’s 47 prefectures, with officials ordering mass cullings after poultry deaths on two farms.

More than 370,000 head of poultry will be slaughtered and buried after avian influenza was discovered at two breeding farms in Mimasaka city in Okayama prefecture in southwestern Japan, the agriculture ministry said on Friday.

Highly pathogenic bird flu, a H5 subtype most likely brought by migrating birds from the Asia or Europe, has spread to nine of Japan’s 47 prefectures, with nearly 3 million birds culled to date, a record number.

All farms in Japan have been ordered to disinfect facilities and check hygiene regimes, and ensure that nets to keep out wild birds are installed properly, agriculture ministry officials told Reuters this week.

The government is calling for extra vigilance because of the growing number of infections in Japan and in Europe, which is in the grip of an outbreak. Japan has suspended poultry imports from seven countries, including Germany.

Japan’s worst outbreak since at least 2016 started last month in Kagawa prefecture on Shikoku island.

Japan had a broiler chicken population of 138 million head last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

(GRAPHIC: Japan's birdflu outbreak by prefecture: )

Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick. Editing by Gerry Doyle