Northern Ireland’s chief veterinary officer, Dr. Robert Huey, has called on all bird and poultry keepers to remain vigilant as cases of avian influenza (bird flu) have been detected in wild birds.
Huey said birdkeepers should “immediately step up their biosecurity measures” after the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) confirmed detections of bird flu in wild birds.
DAERA said bird flu has been detected in samples of dead black-headed gulls which were reported and collected for testing at four locations in Northern Ireland.
The locations were:
- Belfast Harbour;
The findings in Belfast resulted in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB NI) closing its Window on Wildlife facilities near Belfast.
In light of these most recent bird flu confirmations, DAERA vets have updated the ongoing Veterinary Risk Assessment.
“There is now an increasing likelihood of incursion into kept flocks, albeit with a high level of uncertainty, in consideration of the relatively limited number of reports,” the department said.
Huey said that, despite the department’s decision to lift the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone on June 2, the positive bird flu cases in black-headed gulls should serve as a “stark warning” that bird flu is still a threat.
“We must remain cautious of the potential for this persistent disease to spread more widely to other species of wild birds and even enter our kept domestic flocks. We must work hard to protect our entire industry,” he said.
“It is imperative that biosecurity measures are the first thing you think about every morning, and the last thing you think about at night – check, check and re-check what you are doing.”
DAERA and Huey released a list of tips for bird and poultry keepers on the steps they can take to protect their flocks.
These steps include:
- Prevent direct or indirect contact between your flock and wild birds and their manure;
- Prevent access by wild birds to feed, feed storage and water;
- Change your boots;
- Wash your hands;
- Wear disposable boiler suits;
- Keep surrounding areas and specifically the curtilage around houses clean;
- Only have essential vehicles coming on site.
“Completing your daily biosecurity checklist is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity, as is registering your flock with DAERA so that you can receive the latest advice and understand the risk levels,” Huey said.
“We are also asking the poultry industry and the general public to report incidences of dead birds to help us build a better current picture of the spread and any developing patterns across Northern Ireland.”
Huey urged the public who find dead waterfowl or other dead wild birds to not touch the carcasses and to immediately report it to DAERA.
“Information received will be assessed and a decision made on whether to collect and sample the carcass for avian influenza,” he explained.
“We must work together to protect Northern Ireland’s poultry industry, the value of which is significant to our economy. Eggs and poultry meat provide a reliable source of safe, nutritious food.
“It is incumbent on you as a bird keeper, whether that’s of one or 10,000 birds, to stop AI getting into your flock.”