Bird flu risk level raised after outbreaks in poultry flocks

Poultry keepers have been warned to increase their biosecurity after a bird flu outbreak in Cheshire

Poultry keepers have been warned to increase their biosecurity after a bird flu outbreak in Cheshire. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

East Anglia’s poultry keepers are on heightened disease alert after the UK’s risk level for bird flu was raised following outbreaks in other parts of the country.

Chief veterinary officers confirmed last week that the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain of avian influenza had been identified on a commercial broiler breeding site in Cheshire, prompting the cull of 13,000 birds, while an unrelated case of low pathogenic H5N2 strain was found in a poultry flock in Kent.

With growing reports of the disease affecting flocks in mainland Europe, and with winter bringing an increasing risk of infection from migrating birds, the UK’s risk level for avian influenza incursion been raised to “high” in wild birds, and to “medium” for poultry premises – although officials said the risk to individual premises depends upon the level of biosecurity implemented to prevent direct or indirect contact with wild birds.

Anyone who keeps poultry, whether they are commercial farms or back-yard flocks, is urged to follow biosecurity advice including make sure the birds’ living area is clean, placing feed and water in enclosed areas, cleaning footwear before and after visits, and putting fencing around any outdoor areas which wild birds can access.

A statement from the UK’s four chief veterinary officers said: “Bird keepers should remain alert for any signs of disease, report suspected disease immediately and ensure they implement heightened biosecurity measures on their premises.

“It is important now more than ever that bird keepers ensure they are doing all they can to maintain and strengthen good biosecurity on their premises to ensure we prevent further outbreaks.”

Public Health England advises that the risk to the public’s health is very low, and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) says that on the basis of the current scientific evidence, avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for consumers.

The last major UK outbreak of bird flu in early 2017 including three cases in the Diss area which prompted the culling of thousands of birds and the enforcement of restrictive protection zones to contain the spread of the infection.

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Until last week, the UK had remained free of “highly pathogenic” strains of avian influenza since September 2017, but a “low pathogenic” strain returned to East Anglia in December 2019 when a confirmed case prompted the cull of 27,000 chickens at a commercial chicken farm in Athelington, near Eye.

Bird flu is a notifiable animal disease. Anyone who suspect any type of bird flu in poultry or captive birds must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.

• For full disease prevention advice see the avian influenza pages on the .GOV wesbite.

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