France raises bird flu alert level after severe form of virus detected

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France has raised its bird flu alert level after a severe strain of the virus was detected on a northern farm.

A severe strain of the virus was reported this week at a private household in the Ardennes region, near the border with Belgium.

The French Ministry of Agriculture announced that it had immediately raised the risk level in the country to "moderate".

Birds and poultry have also been and quarantined in sensitive areas from Friday, the ministry added.

The new case comes less than a week after France officially announced the end of the influenza outbreak that saw more than 3.5 million birds culled last winter.

But the ministry said in a statement that the reports of the infection did not call into question their actions.

The new highly contagious H5N8 strain of avian influenza was found at a private property, where the birds are not sold. All the animals have now been euthanised to prevent further cases.

Since the beginning of September, two cases of H5N8 have also been declared in Belgium, while another linked case of the virus was also found in Luxembourg.

Since the beginning of August, 25 cases have been detected in wildlife and other captive birds in Europe, French authorities say.

By raising the risk level from "negligible" to "moderate", France has ordered that all poultry must be kept inside shelters and has issued a ban on any public bird competitions. Animals in zoos that cannot be confined must also be vaccinated under the measures.

The ministry said that all the measures taken on Friday would be accompanied by "daily clinical surveillance in all farms".

Between November and May, France had recorded nearly 500 outbreaks of avian influenza in poultry farms, mainly in the southwest of the country.

Bird flu outbreaks can prompt importing countries, notably in Asia, to impose trade restrictions on poultry products. France is the world's largest producer of duck foie gras, with annual sales estimated at €2 billion.

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