Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) chief executive, Wesley Aston, is advising all poultry farmers in Northern Ireland to maintain the highest levels of biosecurity within their businesses.

This follows the confirmation by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) of further positive results for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild birds.

Aston said: “Poultry farmers must remain vigilant and that means maintaining the highest levels of biosecurity at all times.”

Meanwhile, there is growing concern within the north’s poultry sector of what’s now becoming a year-round HPAI threat.

Significantly, Aston does not anticipate any decision on the part of DAERA, calling for poultry flocks to be housed as a biosecurity measure at the present time.

HPAI has also been detected in two fox cubs along with wild birds in the Portrush area over recent days.

While this is the first time mammals have been confirmed as having influenza of an avian strain in Northern Ireland, it is not unexpected.

There have been similar findings in mammals over recent months across Europe, Great Britain, and the Republic of Ireland.

The most recent findings from Portrush were detected as part of DAERA’s routine disease surveillance, and the laboratory has confirmed the strain of the disease as H5N1 in both the fox cubs and wild birds.

DAERA is encouraging the public to keep their dogs on leads and keep pets away from carcasses, particularly in coastal areas. Posters have recently been issued in conjunction with local councils to reiterate this message.

The public is also being urged to report any findings of dead wild birds through the new online reporting form on the DAERA website.

Since its launch almost two weeks ago, over 150 reports have been made by members of the public.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency (PHA) has advised that human infections with AI are rare as it is primarily a disease of birds, with the risk to the health of the general public being very low.

Members of the public should not pick up or touch sick, dying or dead poultry, wild birds or wild animals and keep pets away from them.

The should avoid contact with surfaces contaminated with bird faeces. Untreated bird feathers (such as those found in the environment) and other bird waste should be avoided.

It is also important to maintain good personal hygiene with regular hand washing with soap and use of alcohol-based hand rubs.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has also advised that there is a very low risk to public health from the consumption of properly cooked poultry meat or eggs, provided appropriate hygiene measures are followed.

Not all dead wild birds will be collected by DAERA for surveillance. Where dead wild birds are not required for surveillance purposes or other carcasses are found and not collected for surveillance purposes, it is the landowner’s responsibility to safely dispose of the carcasses.