NI poultry farmers urged to check for Bird Flu symptoms

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Local poultry farmers have been urged to remain vigilant in the wake of the confirmed Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) outbreak in the North West of England.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has made clear that the outbreak relates only to England, however she has confirmed that her department is in contact with Defra officials.

She said: “This outbreak has been declared in England only. My department has been liaising with DEFRA who have made it clear that the risk to public health is very low and that there is no risk to the food chain.

“Since they became aware of the early indications of the disease in Lancashire, my staff have been in direct contact with key poultry industry representatives and stakeholders in the north of Ireland to advise them of the situation and to call for increased vigilance.

“While the situation will be kept under review, I would encourage bird keepers, as a precaution, to revisit their own biosecurity.

“As a precaution the general licence for import of live poultry, poultry meat, poultry products, or hatching eggs from Britain has been suspended and anyone wishing to import these should apply to the department for a specific licence.”

The Chief Veterinary Officer for Northern Ireland, Mr Robert Huey, confirmed that close contact would be kept the Defra in the coming days.

He said: “We are continuing to liaise closely with Defra and are conducting a veterinary risk assessment, the results of which will inform whether any additional local control measures are required at this time.

“We have informed our counterparts in the south of the situation and will continue to work closely with them to ensure that we apply consistent and proportionate measures to protect the island of Ireland.”

Defra are culling all the poultry at the premises to prevent the potential spread of infection.

Specialist poultry vet Margaret Hardy echoed the need for vigilance and highlighted a number of signs of the disease, which includes birds going off their feed.

“A drop-off in egg production is another initial symptom of the disease,” she said.

“Wild birds are thought to have been the initial source of the disease with the H7 virus carried in their faeces.

“The affected farm has a mix of free range and caged birds. Initial results indicate a 25% mortality rate within the free range flock and only 5% within the caged hens. This backs up the belief that the disease has become established within the unit by a faecal spread route. The reality is that free range birds have direct access to their flockmates’ faeces at all times: caged birds do not.”

Hardy said that infection by the classical form of the H7 virus will not lead to physical Bird Flu symptoms.

“It has obviously mutated into a more pathogenic form, post the initial infection period. It normally takes a week to 10 days for physical symptoms to become apparent post infection.”

The Co Tyrone-based vet confirmed that there are no direct consequences of the Bird Flu outbreak for Northern Ireland’s poultry sector at the present time.

“But producers here must be extra vigilant and be on the lookout for symptoms over the coming days. This is particularly the case where caged birds are concerned. The spread of the disease can be a slower burn in such instances, as the hens do not have direct access to their flock mates’ faeces,” she said.

“Producers with any concerns should contact their local vet or the Department of Agriculture immediately.”