France to cull ‘millions’ more poultry as bird flu flares

France will drastically step up the culling of chickens, ducks and other poultry to  contain a bird flu outbreak worse than last winter's, the agriculture ministry said on Friday.

France to cull 'millions' more poultry as bird flu flares
Culling at a duck farm in south west France. Photo by GAIZKA IROZ / AFP

It is the fourth major flu epidemic for French poultry farms since 2015, mainly in the country’s southwest, home to the lucrative yet controversial foie gras liver pate.

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 four million birds had already been culled this year before the outbreak spread to western France over the past two weeks, especially the Vendée department along the Atlantic coast.

The Vendée is considered “strategic” by the ministry because many farms raise birds exclusively for breeding, so clearing the latest virus from the zone is key “for a recovery of activities once it has been sanitised.”

Nearly 190 infected sites have been detected in the department, up from just 74 on Sunday, the ministry said.

“We estimate there are still three million animals that must be culled” in the region, the ministry said.

So far 611 infected sites have been detected overall, surpassing the outbreak of last year, when nearly 500 sites were found requiring the culling of 3.5 million birds.

Quarantine measures have been taken against the virus, and farmers are compensated by the government for losses that can reach millions of euros.

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France declares epidemic as flu cases soar

The French health authority has declared a flu epidemic, while the country also faces a new wave of Covid cases and bronchitis is affecting young children.

France declares epidemic as flu cases soar

Santé publique France made the declaration of an epidemic on Wednesday, adding that three deaths have been recorded due to flu, while 20 patients are in intensive care.

With Covid-19 and bronchitis cases also currently high, health experts have urged people to get vaccinated – especially those over 65. “It is important for people at risk to be vaccinated against flu without delay,” insisted Santé publique France.

READ ALSO Flu vaccine opens to all adults in France: What you need to know

Cases have hit full epidemic levels in Brittany and Normandy, while the virus is in pre-epidemic phase in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Grand Est, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Centre-Val de Loire, Hauts-de-France and Île-de-France, with an increasing number of people heading to hospitals’ emergency departments with influenza-like illness. It is expected to cross over to epidemic levels in the coming days and weeks.

READ ALSO French PM calls on commuters to wear masks as Covid cases rise

It has already hit French overseas territories including Martinique, Mayotte and Reunion.

Flu has hit epidemic levels much earlier than last season, when it did not peak until early Spring.