Bird flu cases discovered in UK; flock keepers asked to remain alert

Northern Irish flock keepers and poultry farmers have been warned to maintain high levels of biosecurity after 17 cases of bird flu were found in England today.

It’s the first time the disease has been found in the UK this winter. More cases are expected to be discovered over the next few days.

Related to H5N6

The disease was detected in wild birds in Dorset. Tests have shown the variant is closely related to the H5N6 strain that has been circulating in wild birds across Europe in recent months – different to the strains which affected people in China last year.

The Food Standards Agency has said that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

UK chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said: “As the virus has been circulating across Europe, this finding has not come as a surprise.

It is vital that anyone who keeps birds – whether a few in a back garden or thousands on a farm – is vigilant for any signs of disease and maintains good biosecurity to reduce the risk of their birds becoming infected.

Northern Ireland recommendations

A Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) spokesman said: “We strongly recommend that all poultry keepers – including backyard keepers – review their biosecurity measures and business continuity plans now, as the risk level may well increase in the coming weeks.

“They should familiarise themselves with DAERA guidance on good biosecurity and how to report suspicion of disease appropriately.

“There are some simple actions that can be taken to help reduce the chance of your birds becoming infected. These could include steps to reduce contact with wild birds in ponds and other areas where water can be found.”

Response in England

Gibbens confirmed that a local “avian influenza prevention zone” will be introduced in the area of Dorset where the diseased birds were found.

This means it will be mandatory for all captive bird keepers to put enhanced biosecurity measures in place such as feeding and watering birds indoors – to minimise mixing with wild birds, minimising movement in and out of bird enclosures.

There are no plans to carry out any culls or put movement restrictions in place.

Trade should not be affected following the findings in wild birds, according to the rules of the World Animal Health Organisation.