The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has announced the introduction of regulations requiring flock keepers to apply particular biosecurity measures for poultry and other captive birds.

The announcement of these regulations is a precautionary measure against highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), as well as a ban on the assembly of birds.

These precautionary measures against avian influenza (bird flu) come into effect on November 17.

This initiative is being taken following confirmation of HPAI H5N1 in wild birds in a number of counties in the Republic of Ireland since early November.

These wild bird findings confirm that the avian influenza virus is currently circulating widely in the wild bird population in Ireland. This reservoir of infection in wildlife poses a risk to poultry flocks and industry, the department warns.

There have not been any outbreaks in poultry flocks at this time.

These regulations require specific biosecurity measures to be implemented by the keepers of all poultry (and other captive bird) flocks, irrespective of size, to help mitigate the risk of infection of their poultry from the virus; and the implementation of additional enhanced biosecurity measures by flock-owners with 500 birds or more.

Since October, the HPAI H5N1 subtype has been responsible for disease in wild birds and outbreaks in poultry and captive birds in a number of EU member states and Britain.

No cases have been identified in Northern Ireland to date but an avian influenza prevention zone (AIPZ) will be introduced in Northern Ireland from midnight on November 17, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has confirmed.

The DAFM says it maintains close contact with its counterparts in the North's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in evaluating and managing the risk of avian influenza on the island.

Poultry flock owners should remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their flocks; maintain strict biosecurity measures; and report any disease suspicion to their nearest department regional veterinary office, even if they only have one or two birds.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has confirmed that although the HPAI H5N1 subtype can cause serious disease in poultry and other birds, no human infections with this virus have been reported world-wide and therefore risk to humans is considered to be very low.

Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat. Members of the public are advised not to handle sick or dead wild birds and to report any incidents of sick or dead wild birds to the regional veterinary office or contact the department disease hotline on 1850 200456.

An early warning system is in place with Birdwatch Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC) with regard to surveillance for signs of disease in wild birds.

The department says it continues to closely monitor and assess the disease situation and is in regular contact with industry stakeholders.