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Zoonoses Public Health. 2008;55(1):54-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1863-2378.2007.01103.x.

Avian influenza outbreak management: action at time of confirmation, depopulation and disposal methods; the 'Belgian experience' during the H7N7 highly pathogenic avian influenza epidemic in 2003.

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Head of Avian Virology and Immunology Unit, Veterinary and Agrochemical Research Centre, Groeselenberg 99, B-1180 Brussels, Belgium.


Eradication of H5 and H7 influenza in a positive flock will include mass depopulation of birds, containment and inactivation of the virus in the carcasses and litter, and decontamination of the facility. A quick response is desired in the event of a disease outbreak. Ideally, birds should be depopulated within 24 h after detecting the virus. Mass depopulation of birds must be performed in a humane manner while minimizing human health and biosecurity risks. In the framework of the European legislation, a number of methods are authorized for the killing of poultry for processing prior to marketing. However, during emergencies such as a disease outbreak, there are fewer options. The current most commonly used procedures for large-scale emergency depopulation of birds consist of exposing poultry to CO or CO(2) gas. Both gasses have been used in Belgium during the H7N7 crisis in 2003. The gassing procedures include whole house gassing, portable panel enclosures, cage cabinets, containers and polyethylene tent method. Whole house gassing requires sealing the house to prevent gas leakage and, using specialized equipment, introducing large volumes of gas evenly over the birds. All procedures are very labour intensive, create a biosecurity risk and require a large number of personnel. There are considerable region-to-region differences in emergency depopulation techniques and disposal of carcasses and infected material. Because of the differences in bird type and species, management, housing and stocking density, it is difficult to propose a depopulation technique that will be suitable for all circumstances. Safety of the human operators is an increasing concern with all H5 and H7 strains and in particular with the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain. Researchers and commercial poultry companies in the United States recently established that non-toxic water-based foam with a certain bubble size presents a practicable, effective and humane method for mass depopulation. Foam of the right bubble size creates an occlusion in the trachea of birds, causing a rapid onset of hypoxia. The foam that blankets the broiler house induces physical hypoxia - the same cause of death as the approved method using carbon dioxide gas (CO(2)). The article illustrates the different culling and disposal methods with a focus on the methods used during the 2003 H7N7 crisis in Belgium.

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