The strict enforcement of high levels of biosecurity measures is key to preventing bird flu outbreaks on poultry farms, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Several outbreaks of the disease have been identified across the EU, including a confirmed case in England.

The EFSA believes the introduction and enforcement of these measures is the most effective way to prevent the introduction of the highly pathogenic influenza virus A (H5N8).

A set of biosecurity measures that can be implemented in different areas of a farm that are classified as high or low risk have been identified by EFSA experts.

On a poultry farm a poultry house would rank as a high risk area, while an area where feed is stored would be classified as low risk.

The measures outlined by the EFSA experts include preventing contact between wild birds and poultry, indoor housing of birds, as well as keeping geese and ducks separate from other poultry.

The development of biosecurity guidance tailored to the need of individual farms is recommended by the EFSA and should preferably be carried out prior to an outbreak.

In an effort to prevent the further spread of the H5N8 virus, the European Commission asked the EFSA to deliver urgent scientific advice on the effectiveness of protection measures currently in place.

This request follows numerous outbreaks of bird flu reported right across Europe in a mixture of both wild birds and commercial poultry flocks since October 2016.

Further Recommendations from the EFSA

The European authority also outlined that when wild birds are detected with the virus, poultry should be monitored in geographical areas defined by the habitat and flight distance of the affected birds.

Furthermore, the EFSA believes that the relevant authorities should raise awareness among farmers of biosecurity measures in such areas.

Meanwhile, passive surveillance, reports of dead birds, is the most effective way to detect the virus in wild birds and poultry, according to the EFSA.

The EFSA also recommended testing samples from species of wild birds not known to be affected by the virus, from areas where the virus has not been reported, in order to determine the geographical spread of the virus.

In 2017 experts from the European authority will deliver a scientific opinion on avian influenza.

They will aim to assess the risk of other avian influenza viruses entering the EU as well as analysing biosecurity measures for turkeys and ducks.

The EFSA will also look to evaluate the mechanisms responsible for the mutation of low pathogenic avian influenza to high pathogenic avian influenza viruses.