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HEALTH

France to cull over one million birds to fight avian flu

Ducks, chickens and turkeys are being culled in some 226 municipalities in southwest France to prevent the spread of bird flu - much to the distress of farmers.

The French government have ordered the slaughter of more than one million poultry birds to deal with an avian flu outbreak
The French government have ordered the slaughter of more than one million poultry birds to deal with an avian flu outbreak (Photo by GEORGES GOBET / AFP)

The French government said Thursday that it would cull more than one million birds in the coming weeks to fight a surging outbreak of avian flu on poultry farms.

All ducks, chickens and turkeys must be culled in some 226 municipalities in France’s southwestern Landes, Gers and Pyrenees Atlantiques departments, totalling up to 1.3 million birds.

“It will take us about three weeks to clear the whole area,” the agriculture ministry said.

By wiping out the populations where the virus is spreading, officials hope to shorten the outbreak and prevent it from reaching other poultry-raising regions.

Over one million birds have already been killed in attempts to smother the avian flu outbreak that began in late November.

Farmers in the region, famous for its lucrative but controversial foie gras liver pate, are compensated for the culled animals.

READ MORE French family defend naming their son Canard (duck)

The ministry plans to requisition abattoirs and pull in large numbers of workers, including vet school students, to speed up the process.

Several European countries are now battling a highly contagious flu strain, H5N1, just a year after a similar virus decimated flocks.

Four bird flu outbreaks have hit France and especially the southwest since 2015, with 3.5 million poultry killed last winter.

Measures like quarantines at times of potential contact with migrating wild birds, and reduced densities at duck farms, “were necessary, but haven’t been enough,” said Herve Dupouy, a duck farmer and a farmers’ union leader in Landes.

“We’re desperate, farmers’ morale is poor. How can we look to the future beyond the situation we’re experiencing, with dead animals on our farms?” he said.

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HEALTH

First suspected case of monkeypox reported in France

France reported its first suspected case of monkeypox on Thursday, after cases of the virus were reported in several neighbouring countries.

First suspected case of monkeypox reported in France

A first suspected case of monkeypox in France was reported in the Paris area on Thursday, the country’s direction générale de la santé has said, two weeks after a first case of the virus in Europe was discovered in the UK.

Since that first case was reported on May 6th, more than 30 other cases have been confirmed in Spain, Portugal, the UK, Sweden, Canada and the USA.

Here we explain what is known about the viral disease.

Why is it called monkeypox?

The virus was first identified in 1958 in laboratory monkeys – which is where the name comes from – but rodents are now considered the probable main animal host.

It is mainly observed in isolated areas of central and western Africa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, with the first case in humans reported in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Why is it in the news?

Monkeypox does not usually spread beyond Western and Central Africa. It is the first time, for example, it has been identified in Spain or Portugal.

It is believed the relaxing of Covid-19 travel rules have allowed the virus to spread further than usual.

The first case in the UK was reported on May 6th, in a patient who had recently travelled to Nigeria. But in the eight cases reported since, several had no connection to each other, and none had recently travelled, prompting experts to believe a number of cases have gone unreported.

Scientists are now working to find out if those cases are linked. 

What are the symptoms?

Initially, the infected patient experiences fever, headache, muscle pain, inflammation of the lymph node, backache and severe fatigue. Then pimples appear, first on the face, then in the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet. The mucous membranes of the mouth, genitals and cornea may also be affected. 

It has been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as similar but less serious than smallpox. In most cases, symptoms disappear in two to three weeks and the patient makes a full recovery.

There are two known strains of the virus: the more severe Congo strain and the West African strain. UK cases reported to date have been the West African strain.

How is it transmitted?

Monkeypox is most often transmitted to humans by infected rodents or primates through direct contact with blood, body fluids, or skin or mucous membrane lesions of these animals. 

Human-to-human transmission occurs primarily through respiratory droplet particles during prolonged contact. But contamination can come from close contact with skin lesions of an infected individual or from objects, such as bedding, recently contaminated with biological fluids or materials from a patient’s lesions.

More severe cases are related to the length of time patients are exposed to the virus, their state of health, and whether the virus leads to other health complications. 

Young children are more sensitive to this virus.

Can it be treated?

There is no specific treatment or preventive vaccine against monkeypox – and the huge majority of patients recover fully with appropriate care.

Smallpox vaccination was effective in the past at also providing protection from monkeypox, but with that disease considered eradicated, people are no longer vaccinated against it, which has allowed monkeypox to spread once again. 

Should we be worried?

Experts have said that we’re not going to see the virus reach epidemic levels.

“There is no evidence that human-to-human transmission alone can maintain monkeypox in the human population,” the WHO has said.

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