Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has issued a warning to poultry farmers after confirmation of a 'highly pathogenic' case of bird flu in England.
Northern Ireland's chief veterinary officer (CVO) Dr. Robert Huey is encouraging all poultry keepers to "remain vigilant and take action now, as we enter this high risk period".
The case of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 was discovered at a swan rescue centre in Worcestershire in the West Midlands of England.
Disease control zones have been put in place around the infected site to limit the risk of the diseases spreading.
Wild birds migrating to the UK or Ireland from mainland Europe during the winter months can carry the disease, which can lead to cases in poultry and pet birds.
"This is the time to critically review your biosecurity arrangements to reduce the risk of transmission of avian influenza to poultry or other captive birds," Dr. Huey said.
"[DAERA] has developed a biosecurity-self assessment tool which is available on its website to help bird keepers in the review of their biosecurity arrangements and provide the necessary assurances to protect their birds, the poultry industry and our economy as we come into the high-risk winter months. The checklist can be completed online and saved to your device."
DAERA outlined some measures for poultry keepers to put in place to protect birds, which include:
- Keep the area where birds live clean and tidy, control rats and mice and regularly clean and disinfect any hard surfaces;
- Keep chickens and turkeys completely separate from ducks and geese;
- Conduct regular maintenance checks on sheds;
- Clean moss off roofs, empty gutters and remove vegetation between sheds where birds are kept;
- Draw up contingency plans for storing bedding and dealing with pests;
- Place birds' feed and water in fully enclosed areas that are protected from wild birds and remove any spilled feed regularly;
- Put fencing around outdoor areas where birds are allowed and limit their access to ponds or areas visited by wildfowl;
- Clean and disinfect footwear before and after entering premises where birds are kept.
This is the first case of bird flu detected in the UK of the 2021-2022 flu season. Dr. Huey said it is "only a matter of time" before the disease found its way to the island of Ireland.