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Communication will be key to control future bird flu outbreaks, says Animal and Plant Health Agency

Bird flu outbreak at Redgrave.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Bird flu outbreak at Redgrave. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

The need for better communication has emerged as one of the key lessons from last winter’s bird flu outbreaks – both to co-ordinate disease response and circulate preventative messages.

Cristian Ciurlic, a senior veterinary inspector for the APHA, speaking at the avian influenza roadshow at Barnham Broom Hotel. Cristian Ciurlic, a senior veterinary inspector for the APHA, speaking at the avian influenza roadshow at Barnham Broom Hotel.

More than 100 East Anglian poultry farmers gathered for an avian influenza roadshow run by the Poultry Health and Welfare Group at Barnham Broom Hotel, outside Norwich, to discuss the cases of the disease between December 2016 and June 2017.

The H5N8 strain of the virus sparked a series of bird culls and preventative restrictions within the region’s poultry industry, including 23,000 birds killed at a farm in Redgrave, near Diss, in February and a further 55,000 birds culled after the virus was identified at a nearby duck unit.

Defra and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) published a report detailing 13 “lessons learned” including recommendations on how the disease response and communications with other government agencies, local authorities, industry groups and hobby poultry keepers could be improved in future.

Cristian Ciurlic, a senior veterinary inspector for the APHA, told the meeting that the approach to communications “evolved through the outbreak”, with the gov.uk website acting as a central source of information, augmented with advice leaflets, text alerts, videos and infographics shared on social media.

“The most important thing is communication,” he said. “Generally it was positive, but there are areas for improvement. It has been agreed that we should improve communication between the licensing teams, national disease control centres, local teams and local authorities.”

Mr Ciurlic said a specific communication plan is being developed to target domestic “back-yard” poultry flocks during an outbreak. The APHA report says: “There was a fear that the non-commercial keeper community were not aware of, or practising, good routine biosecurity, and had little understanding of the impact that disease in their flock would have on other keepers in potential zones.”

The recommendations to government include: “To examine cost-effective ways to communicate with and educate hobby flock keepers so control measures and orders, and biosecurity generally, are better understood within the hobby keeper community.”

Another recommendation is a review of the GB Poultry Register to see if disease control would be improved if smaller flocks were required to register.

Although poultry keepers with 50 or more birds are legally required to sign up, this is only a voluntary suggestion for smaller flocks.

The report says: “Five of 13 infected premises confirmed in this outbreak have been small non-commercial flocks. Of those five, three were not registered. Also, a number of premises containing over 50 birds visited by foot patrols were not registered, in breach of the legal requirement. In addition foot patrols discovered significant numbers of small flocks with fewer than 50 birds.”

Mr Ciurlic added: “There was a lot of discussion about the GB Poultry Register and the industry representatives have asked why there is no requirement for flocks of under 50 birds. This is still being looked at.”

For the full report, and biosecurity requirements, click here.

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