Avian Influenza – a tale of two regions

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Decisions taken yesterday (Friday) will see Scotland and Northern Ireland impacted differently by the Avian Influenza control decisions taken in the two regions.

For Northern Ireland, it’s a case of continuing restrictions while, in Scotland, the current prevention zone will be lifted from April 30.

Here in Northern Ireland, the Avian Influenza Protection Zone is being extended until 31 May 2017, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has confirmed.

The current Prevention Zone, which expires at 11.59pm on 30 April, provides keepers in all areas of Northern Ireland with the option to let their birds outside subject to them complying with additional biosecurity mitigation measures.

Ahead of the implementation of the new Prevention Zone on Monday 1 May, Northern Ireland’s Chief Veterinary Officer Robert J Huey is reminding all bird keepers to remain vigilant.

He said: “The risk of infection from wild birds is decreasing and is expected to continue to decrease in the coming weeks.

The decision to extend the prevention zone until the end of May has been made following a recent veterinary risk assessment which concluded that there is still a risk of avian influenza to poultry through direct or indirect contact with wild birds, although the risk has decreased.

“I would continue therefore to strongly encourage all bird keepers to maintain compliance with the additional biosecurity mitigation measures previously introduced on 17 March 2017. The main critical control points remain prevention of fomite spread into poultry premises and stopping direct and indirect contact between wild birds and domestic poultry.”

The Chief Veterinary Officer also spoke of the importance of keepers remaining vigilant for signs for the disease and to continue to practice the very highest levels of biosecurity. He added: “It is essential that bird keepers comply with the biosecurity requirements set out in the declaration of the Prevention Zone if they are to minimise the risk of infection. Key to this will be ensuring that their birds are separated from wild birds when outside. Avian Influenza is a notifiable disease and any suspicion should be reported immediately to your local Divisional Veterinary Office.”

UFU poultry chairman Tom Forgrave said: “All along we have been guided by the advice of DAERA veterinary officials. The most important thing remains protecting the industry from Avian Flu.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish government has announced that its avian influenza prevention zone is being lifted from 30 April.

Penny Middleton, NFU Scotland’s Poultry Policy and Animal Health and Welfare Policy Manager commented: “NFU Scotland welcomes the news that the latest veterinary risk assessment has concluded that the risk of AI incursion to poultry in Scotland has reduced to low, allowing the lifting of the prevention zone on 30 April.

“This has been a testing time for the Scottish poultry industry and their response and cooperation in the face of such heightened risk is to be applauded.

“Obviously whilst the risk has reduced it has not disappeared completely and keepers need to stay focussed on biosecurity, maintaining measures to minimise contact between the flock and wild birds and to minimise any spread of potential infection. The level of threat this winter has been unprecedented but could be the start of a recurring pattern.

“There is work needed to be done this summer to assess how we handle such situations in the future and for keepers to consider carefully their contingency plans and resilience to face similar situations in the future.”