Japan's bird flu outbreak worsens with record cullings

TOKYO (Reuters) - A bird flu outbreak in Japan worsened on Thursday with farms in two more prefectures slaughtering chicken in a record cull of poultry as the government ordered the disinfection of all chicken farms.

FILE PHOTO: Officials in protective suits work at a chicken farm where an outbreak of a highly pathogenic bird flu was confirmed in Mitoyo, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo November 5, 2020. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

Highly pathogenic bird flu, a H5 subtype most likely brought by migrating birds from the Asian/European continent, has spread to eight of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

While officials say it is not possible for people to catch avian influenza from eggs or meat of infected chickens, they are concerned about the virus making a “species jump” to humans and causing a pandemic like the novel coronavirus.

All farms in Japan have been ordered to carry out disinfection and check hygiene regimes as well as ensure that nets to keep out wild birds are installed properly, agriculture ministry officials told Reuters.

The number of birds culled, at 2.36 million before the latest two outbreaks, exceeded the previous record of 1.83 million slaughtered in the year beginning in April 2010.

The government is calling for extra vigilance due to the growing number of infections at home and in Europe, which is in the grip of an outbreak.

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

In the latest cases, the virus was confirmed at an egg-laying farm in Kinokawa city in Wakayama prefecture, the agriculture ministry said on its website.

Three broiler farms in Oita prefecture on Kyushu island also reported outbreaks, it said.

More than 130,000 chickens at the farms in Oita and Wakayama will be slaughtered and buried.

The latest cullings mean nearly 2.5 million chickens will have been slaughtered since the outbreak began. Japan has suspended poultry imports from seven countries including Germany.

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

Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Grant McCool, Robert Birsel