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Avian Influenza - An Update

Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) – An Update

What is Avian influenza and why is it important?

Avian influenza, sometimes referred to as ‘bird flu’, is a virus that causes disease in birds. Poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese) are particularly badly affected by the disease. Wild birds are also affected. Migratory birds like wild geese are more likely to spread the virus as they travel long distances between countries.

Anyone who has birds, even as pets, should be aware of government advice regarding Avian influenza. This includes keepers of poultry, game birds like pheasants and partridges, and those with pet birds.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a strain of avian flu that causes particularly severe disease. There have been cases of this around the UK and, most notably for us, cases in our local area.

Avian influenza is a Notifiable Disease. This means it is a legal requirement to report a suspicion of avian flu to the relevant government authorities. Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza is very contagious and causes severe disease so it places our poultry industry and wild bird populations under threat, hence the need for the government to be informed of potential cases.

It is true that there have been a few rare cases on HPAI in humans in Asia.  However, the risk to humans is stated by our government to be very low. The previously reported human cases were in people who had prolonged, close contact with infected birds. It is wise to practice good hygiene when handling your own birds, as always, but remember the biggest risk is to our birds, not us. There is no reason to stop consuming poultry products e.g. meat or eggs.

If I keep birds, what do I need to do?

It is important, even if you only have pet birds or a few backyard hens, that you stay alert to signs of disease in your birds and report any unusual findings. It is also important you follow government biosecurity advice and do not breach restrictions, see below.

The HPAI strain of flu was found in birds near Exmouth on 29th December 2020. The government placed the area under certain restrictions. As spread of the disease is believed to be under control, these restrictions have been partially relaxed as of 21st January 2021.  However, there are still restrictions and requirements in place. For full details please read this link.

It is essential all bird keepers follow the necessary restrictions at the present time, until notified otherwise. Advanced hygiene measures to prevent spread of the disease are also advised. This document outlines what all keepers of birds should be doing to maintain good hygiene and disease control.

It is sensible to register your poultry with the government, even if you only have a few birds. That way the government will keep you informed regarding disease and disease control measures. To register your birds follow this link (please note; registration is compulsory if you have over 50 birds but voluntary registration for any number is advised):

What if one of my birds is unwell?

Birds with HPAI can show the following signs.

  • A swollen head
  • Blueish colouration of the neck and throat
  • A loss of appetite
  • Respiratory distress (gaping, coughing, sneezing, rattly breathing)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Decreased egg production
  • Death

If you spot any of these signs in your birds, or if you have other concerns regarding their health, please call us on 01395 277775 and explain you have a sick bird and you’re concerned about bird flu. You can also call DEFRA directly on 03000 200 301. Birds can get sick for lots of reasons and many will be totally unrelated to flu. If you call us we may want to chat through a few questions on the phone before we invite you in for an appointment. What’s important is that you notify us or DEFRA if you have concerns.

If I see a wild bird that is sick or dead, what should I do?

If you see a bird that is alive but unwell you can call us for advice, or call DEFRA directly on 03000 200 301.  Please do not bring sick birds straight in to us at the Practice, please call first; in certain circumstances it may be unwise for the bird to be moved.

If you find a dead bird, call DEFRA directly in all cases on 03000 200 301.

If you have any questions regarding Avian influenza, keeping your birds safe or general advice regarding hygiene of domestic birds, further guidance is available on the gov.uk website. You can, of course, call us on the usual number if you have further questions.