key dates since the first outbreak in France in 2006

First identified more than a hundred years ago in Italy, it officially reappeared in 1997 in the H5N1 form during an epidemic detected in Hong Kong, China, which caused the death of six people.

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Since 2003, new cases of transmission to humans with an H5 virus have been observed in Asia. Balance from this resumption of the epidemic: in September 2005, 64 deaths were to be deplored between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia and 150 million birds were found dead. Furthermore, avian influenza follows the route of migratory birds and is inevitably, at the end of 2005, on the doorstep of France. So much so that on January 13, 2006, the government of Dominique de Villepin revised upwards its measures to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic that scientists increasingly feared. Containment measures for poultry farms…

First identified more than a hundred years ago in Italy, it officially reappeared in 1997 in the H5N1 form during an epidemic detected in Hong Kong, China, which caused the death of six people.

> Find all our avian flu articles in our search engine

Since 2003, new cases of transmission to humans with an H5 virus have been observed in Asia. Balance from this resumption of the epidemic: in September 2005, 64 deaths were to be deplored between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia and 150 million birds were found dead. Furthermore, avian influenza follows the route of migratory birds and is inevitably, at the end of 2005, on the doorstep of France. So much so that on January 13, 2006, the government of Dominique de Villepin revised upwards its measures to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic that scientists increasingly feared. The confinement measures for poultry farms, concerning twenty-six departments (including Charente-Maritime, Gironde and Landes) are extended in particular to the Dordogne, for a total of fifty-eight.

February 18, 2006: first confirmed case in France

While the confinement measure for farmed poultry is technically very complex for professionals to apply, the first case of H5N1 avian flu (or flu) in France is confirmed in a mallard duck found dead in Joyeux in the Ain. It is thanks to extensive tests carried out by the national reference laboratory of the AFSSA (French Food Safety Agency) that the Ministry of Agriculture confirms that the duck was indeed a carrier of the highly pathogenic strain of the virus.

On 23 February, an entire farm in Versailleux, also in Ain, was suppressed after 400 animals died. This is, again, H5N1. This is the first case of contamination of a farm in the European Union.


While the dead animals were being autopsied, a sanitary perimeter was set up on 24 February 2006 around the infected farm in Versailleux, Ain.

JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP

In 2007, the return of the H5N1 virus to Europe

After the bird flu episode in spring 2006, the H5N1 virus returned to Europe. In February, 160,000 turkeys from a farm in eastern England are slaughtered. It is the first farm affected in Great Britain and the second in the European Union since the beginning of 2007.

An outbreak of bird flu was discovered in July and the death of three swans in the Moselle has raised fears across France. The prevention and monitoring system thus passes to the “high” risk level. The fifth level on a scale that has six.

On 5 July 2007 in Assenoncourt in the Moselle, members of the veterinary services met people to give them information following tests carried out on three swans found dead and which confirmed the presence of the H5N1 strain of bird flu.


On 5 July 2007 in Assenoncourt in the Moselle, members of the veterinary services met people to give them information following tests carried out on three swans found dead and which confirmed the presence of the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN/AFP

In the Dordogne, for example, the importance of the poultry industry further strengthens surveillance: 37 communes are placed under strict surveillance.

November 24, 2015: The Southwest is no longer spared

In this month of autumn 2015, the H5N1 virus was identified in a farmyard in Biras, north of Périgueux, in the Dordogne. On 24 November, the National Agency for Risk Assessment (ANSES) sent the results of its analyzes to the State services. The next day, the Ministry of Agriculture officially announced: “This is indeed a highly pathogenic H5N1 strain for poultry.” The virus had not been detected in France for eight years (2007).

Immediately, authorities established a 3-kilometre protection zone (subject to animal confinement restrictions) and a 10-kilometre surveillance zone around the contaminated property, where twenty-two hens had died the previous week.

The farmyard is isolated, disinfected and in Biras, on 25 November 2015, a perimeter of protection and surveillance is set up.


The farmyard is isolated, disinfected and in Biras, on 25 November 2015, a perimeter of protection and surveillance is set up.

Jean-Christophe Sounalet/Southwest Archives

In early December 2015, bird flu spread through the region. New outbreaks are discovered in the Dordogne and Haute-Vienne. The Landes is also affected, the bird flu virus is found in Josse and Doazit: 8,500 poultry are slaughtered.

On 14 January 2016, the Ministry of Agriculture reacted. It does not order the culling of all waterfowl (geese and ducks) in the Great West to stem the epidemic but imposes a drastic hornet’s nest plan in all affected departments. To “effectively and sustainably eradicate the disease in the palmiped sector”, the authorities choose to gently empty the farms.

At the end of 2016, the H5N8

The Ministry of Agriculture announced on 28 November 2016 that a first case of “highly pathogenic” H5N8 avian influenza in France was confirmed among twenty ducks in Marck (Pas-de-Calais) between Calais and Dunkirk. These were “used as decoys for waterfowl hunting”. The alert is taken very seriously even if the Food Safety Agency (Anses) states that there was no sign of transmissibility to humans.

But this new strain is spreading, and in the days that follow bird flu hits the Southwest. After the Tarn, the departments of Lot-et-Garonne, Gers, Hautes-Pyrénées and Pyrénées-Atlantiques were affected in early December 2016. On December 6, the Ministry of Agriculture decided to increase the risk level from “moderate” to “high” nationwide. On 13 December, 2,450 ducks were slaughtered in two farms in the Landes, in Lussagnet and in Eugénie-les-Bains.

Faced with this rapid spread, the Ministry of Agriculture, after having consulted the professionals of the sector, took the decision, on January 4, 2017, of a partial culling of the fat palmipeds in the area most affected by the spread of the H5N8 virus, which i.e. part of the Landes, Gers and Hautes-Pyrénées.

Stéphane Le Foll, Minister of Agriculture, announced on 21 February 2017 the culling of 360,000 aquatic birds in the Landes and Pyrénées-Atlantiques and a hornet’s nest in an area which affects four departments of the south-west and concentrates most of the outbreaks of H5N8.

On 5 May 2017, an ordinance, published in the Official Gazette, signaled a reduction in the epizootic risk of bird flu to a “negligible” level throughout the metropolitan area. In total, 4 million ducks were slaughtered in the South West and about 7 million ducks were not produced, representing a total loss of 11 million animals.

On May 29, 2017, the end of the hornet’s nest imposed by the Ministry of Agriculture.

2020-2021, the nightmare of farmers

On December 8, 2020, the first case of avian flu of the year was officially recognized in France, in a farm. The contamination is due to H5N8 in a farm located in Bénesse-Maremne in the Landes. 6,500 ducks are slaughtered. Before the Landes, two cases were observed in France. The first, in mid-November 2020, in Haute-Corse, in the animal department of a nursery near Bastia. The second also a pet shop, in the Yvelines. Each time, all the birds were euthanized.

The virus is progressing rapidly and in January 2021, in addition to Landes, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Gers, Lot-et-Garonne and Hautes-Pyrénées are affected. According to the count of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food dated January 28, 2021, France has 418 outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza. The Landes department remains by far the hardest hit with 322 farms affected and nearly 2 million poultry have been slaughtered in the southwest (3.5 million will be in total). For poultry and duck farming it is a real nightmare.

A massacre in a contaminated chicken farm in the Landes in 2021.


A massacre in a contaminated chicken farm in the Landes in 2021.

Thibault Toulemonde/Southwest Archives

2021-2022, towards vaccination against avian flu

After a three-month hiatus, farmers can return to work in April 2021 under certain conditions. But the return of migratory birds in the following autumn decides the Minister of Agriculture, Julien Denormandie, to raise the alert level for avian flu, on November 5th. Once again the poultry needs to be fixed.

Despite this, a first case was detected in the southwest, also in the Landes in Hastingues, on 20 December 2021. Between 23 and 25 December 2021, seven farms with no apparent connection were contaminated on the Landes and du Béarn borders: in total nearly 44,000 animals are slaughtered.

In January 2022, the H5N1 virus circulating on French territory affected 60% of aquatic birds and 40% of gallinaceous birds. With the continued circulation of the virus, preventive slaughter of 1.3 million animals is planned in 226 municipalities in the Landes, Gers and Pyrénées-Atlantiques. While 1.2 million gallinaceae (chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, hens) and aquatic birds (ducks, geese) have already been killed. A hornet’s nest will follow…

A confined duck farm in the Landes.


A confined duck farm in the Landes.

David Le Déodic/Southwest Archives

The return to production in the Landes takes place from 29 March 2022 and on the following 10 May two candidate vaccines are tested on ducks in the Landes and Gers. A vaccine is not expected to be used until the fall of 2023.

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