Chief vet warns ‘not enough being done’ to prevent bird flu

Poultry keepers have been urged to step up their prevention efforts against bird flu

All poultry keepers have been urged to keep their birds indoors and step up their prevention efforts against avian influenza - Credit: Archant

East Anglia’s poultry keepers have been given a stark warning to urgently ramp up their disease prevention efforts or risk losing their flocks to bird flu.

The UK is in the grip of its largest-ever outbreak of avian influenza, with more than 60 cases confirmed in farms and back-yard flocks across the country since the start of November.

So far, there have been no significant outbreaks in Norfolk, with the only case being in a very small domestic flock at a residential property on the Holkham estate.

But chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss warned there was no room for complacency, and urged all poultry keepers to step up their efforts to tighten their biosecurity and keep their birds indoors - now a legal requirement after the enforcement of a mandatory housing order. Otherwise, the birds could be killed and their keepers fined.

She said while the main source of infection comes from migratory wild birds, the disease can also be spread on clothes and shoes, so people risked infecting their own flocks by walking the virus into their holdings.

"Many poultry keepers have excellent biosecurity standards but the number of cases we are seeing suggests that not enough is being done to keep bird flu out," she said.

"Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands you must take action now to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.

"Implementing scrupulous biosecurity has never been more critical. You must regularly clean and disinfect your footwear and clothes before entering enclosures, stop your birds mixing with any wild birds and only allow visitors that are strictly necessary.

"It is your actions that will help keep your birds safe."

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While devastating for bird flocks, food and health agencies advise that the risk to human health and food safety from avian influenza is very low - and there is not expected to be any impact on food supplies.

Bird keepers should report suspicion of disease to the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.

Anyone who finds dead swans, geese or ducks or other wild birds should not touch them, but report them to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

For more prevention advice, see www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu.

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