Further avian influenza cases confirmed in wild birds in England

A further three cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza have been confirmed in wild birds in Stroud, Gloucestershire, according to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

The cases were found in three wild geese  (one Canada Goose and two Greylag Geese) as part of year-round avian influenza surveillance of dead wild birds submitted via public reports and warden patrols.

Tests confirmed all three birds were infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N8.

Further cases were also detected in a swan and five cygnets near Dawlish in Devon, which tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8.

In addition, a wild goose near Weymouth in Dorset has tested positive for H5N8. Although the pathogenicity has yet to be determined.

it comes after the risk level for avian influenza incursion in wild birds in GB has been raised from ‘medium’ to ‘high’ following the two unrelated confirmed cases of avian influenza in England and increasing reports of avian influenza affecting flocks in mainland Europe.

Investigations are underway to determine whether the latest cases are related to the detection of the same strain in broiler breeder chickens near Frodsham, Cheshire.

The finding of HPAI H5N8 in wild birds is unrelated to the case of Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) H5N2 in Kent.

The chief vets from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have urged bird keepers to maintain and strengthen their farm biosecurity measures in order to prevent further outbreaks.

There have been a number of confirmed reports of avian influenza in wild birds including geese and swans in the Netherlands and northern Germany in recent weeks. These wild birds are all on the waterfowl flyway from breeding grounds in western Russia, where the H5N8 strain was reported in poultry in mid-October.

Wild birds migrating to the UK from mainland Europe during the winter period can spread the disease to poultry and other captive birds.

As a result, all bird keepers and members of the public are being urged to prevent direct or indirect contact with wild birds.

Public Health England (PHE) advises that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency advises that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.

Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: “An H5N8 strain of avian influenza has been confirmed in wild geese in Gloucestershire, swans in Devon and a wild goose in Dorset.

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 has confirmed that the risk to public health is very low and the Food Standards Agency advises that bird flu poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.

“We ask that people continue to report findings of dead wild birds so that we can investigate the extent of infection.”

Dr. Gavin Dabrera, consultant in acute respiratory Infections at PHE, said: “To-date, there have been no human cases of infection with influenza A(H5N8) confirmed by the WHO and the risk to public health is very low.

“Our advice regarding contact with wild birds remains the same – make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap after coming into contact with any animal and do not touch any sick or dead birds.”

A Food Standards Agency spokesperson said: “We advise that, on the basis of the current scientific evidence, avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.

“Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, remain safe to eat.”

Anyone who finds dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, should report them to the Defra helpline on: 03459-33-55-77.