Bird Flu: ‘It is only a matter of time before it reaches our shores’

A warning has been issued to all poultry farmers and pet bird keepers in Northern Ireland following confirmation of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 at a rescue centre.

Northern Ireland’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Robert Huey, has urged poultry keepers here to be vigilant and said it is “only a matter of time before it reaches our shores”.

The case was confirmed at a swan rescue centre in Worcestershire, England, earlier this week, where disease control zones have been put in place around the infected site to limit the risk of the disease spreading.

Wild birds migrating to the UK from mainland Europe during the winter months can carry the disease and this can lead to cases in poultry and captive birds.

Dr. Huey, commented: “Following the confirmation of HPAI H5N1 in Worcestershire, I am encouraging all poultry keepers to remain vigilant and take action now as we enter this high-risk period.

“This is the time to critically review your biosecurity arrangements to reduce the risk of transmission of avian influenza to poultry or other captive birds.

“The Department has developed a biosecurity self-assessment tool, which is available on the DAERA website to help bird keepers in the review of their biosecurity arrangements and provide the necessary assurances to protect their birds, the poultry industry and our economy as we come into the high risk winter months.

“The checklist can be completed online and saved to your device.”

There are some simple measures that all poultry keepers should follow to protect their birds against the threat of avian flu.

These apply to people running a large commercial farm, keeping a few hens in their back garden and those rearing game birds.

These include:

- Keep the area where birds live clean and tidy, control rats and mice and regularly clean and disinfect any hard surfaces.

- Keep chickens and turkeys completely separate from ducks and geese.

- Conduct regular maintenance checks on their sheds.

- Clean moss off the roofs, empty gutters and remove vegetation between sheds where birds are kept.

- Draw up contingency plans for storing bedding and dealing with pests.

- Place birds’ feed and water in fully enclosed areas that are protected from wild birds, and remove any spilled feed regularly.

- Put fencing around outdoor areas where birds are allowed and limit their access to ponds or areas visited by wild waterfowl.

- Clean and disinfect footwear before and after entering premises where birds are kept.

Dr. Huey added: “This first avian influenza case of the 2021-22 season in the UK serves as a timely reminder and we can be sure that it is only a matter of time before it reaches our shores.

“Please remain alert for any signs of disease, continue to adopt good biosecurity measures on your premises and review business continuity plans.

“An outbreak of avian influenza in a small backyard flock could impose the same restrictions on movements of birds as if it was found on a commercial farm.

“If avian influenza were to enter any flock, including backyard or hobby flocks, it could have a devastating effect on the poultry industry and could significantly impact international trade.”

Bird keepers are also reminded of the need to register their flocks.

This enables the department to contact you in the event of an outbreak of avian disease, giving you the earliest opportunity to protect your flocks.

DAERA encourages all bird keepers to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of the disease which can be found on the DAERA webpage.

If you are concerned in any way about the health of your birds, or if you notice any behaviours that are not normal for your birds, please report it immediately to your local DAERA Direct Office on 0300 200 7840.