With the increased occurrence of outbreaks of H5N1 worldwide there is concern that the virus could enter commercial poultry farms with severe economic consequences.
We analyse data from four recent outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in commercial poultry to estimate the farm-to-farm reproductive number for HPAI. The reproductive number is a key measure of the transmissibility of HPAI at the farm level because it can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the control measures. In these outbreaks the mean farm-to-farm reproductive number prior to controls ranged from 1.1 to 2.4, with the maximum farm-based reproductive number in the range 2.2 to 3.2. Enhanced bio-security, movement restrictions and prompt isolation of the infected farms in all four outbreaks substantially reduced the reproductive number, but it remained close to the threshold value 1 necessary to ensure the disease will be eradicated.
Our results show that depending on the particular situation in which an outbreak of avian influenza occurs, current controls might not be enough to eradicate the disease, and therefore a close monitoring of the outbreak is required. The method we used for estimating the reproductive number is straightforward to implement and can be used in real-time. It therefore can be a useful tool to inform policy decisions.