The UK has seen a steadily escalation in biosecurity measures to tackle the risk of avian influenza over the past month, culminating in advice from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) that from midnight on 7 November all poultry and captive birds in England must now be housed until further notice, following an increase in infections among wild birds and on commercial premises.
Bird keepers are required to shut their birds indoors and implement strict biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from the threat of the disease, regardless of the type or size of bird.
Dr Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, said: “We are seeing a growing number of bird flu cases on commercial farms and in backyard birds across the country driven by high levels of disease within wild birds. Unfortunately, we expect the number of cases to continue to rise over the coming months as migratory birds return to the UK, bringing with them further risk of disease that can spread into our kept flocks.”
The latest announcement builds on the biosecurity measures that were brought in as part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) announced by the government in mid-October.
According to the DEFRA/APHA announcement on 3 November, the UK is facing its largest ever outbreak of avian influenza, with over 200 cases confirmed across the country since late October 2021.
The agencies said the wild bird risk across Great Britain has increased from ‘high’ to ‘very high’ and the risk to poultry with stringent biosecurity remains at ‘medium’. They added that the risk to poultry with poor biosecurity is still considered ‘high’, due to the increase in numbers of infected premises seen in September and October and the distance of some of these, as well as wild bird cases, from the coast.
The government said all bird keepers must now follow enhanced measures at all times to prevent the risk of future outbreaks, with these measures remaining in place until further notice and will be under regular review as the government works to monitor and manage the risks of avian influenza.
Preventing the spread of avian influenza
DEFRA’s advice to poultry keepers is that they must keep a close watch on their birds for signs of disease and maintain good biosecurity at all times. If bird keepers have any concerns about the health of their birds, they should seek prompt advice from their vet.
All bird keepers (whether they are pet birds, a commercial farm or just a few birds in a backyard flock) are advised to remain vigilant and help prevent avian influenza by:
- housing or netting all poultry and captive birds
- cleansing and disinfecting clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds – if practical, use disposable protective clothing
- reducing the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry and captive birds are kept, to minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products, and using effective vermin control
- keeping records of mortality, movement of poultry and poultry products and any changes in production
- thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting housing on a continuous basis
- keeping fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all farm and poultry housing entry and exit points
- minimising direct and indirect contact between poultry and captive birds and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water is not accessible to wild birds
- preventing access by poultry to ponds and watercourses and ensuring that birds are kept in fenced or enclosed areas.
What is avian influenza?
Avian influenza, known informally as avian flu or bird flu, is a variety of influenza caused by viruses adapted to birds. There are two types of avian influenza, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) which is the most serious and often fatal in birds, and Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) which is normally less serious. The disease is not airborne and can spread through bird-to-bird contact or via contamination on vehicle wheels, feed, clothing and footwear.
Avian influenza is one of a number of notifiable diseases that are legally required to be reported to APHA. If a notifiable disease such as avian influenza is confirmed, the farm is placed under restrictions, birds are culled, and the site is cleaned and disinfected. Restrictions are also normally placed upon the local area and investigations made into the source of the disease.
Avian flu and public health
There is a concern that there could be 50 percent fewer turkeys available this Christmas as the poultry sector now battles the largest ever outbreak of avian influenza. In addition to this, there have been fewer poultry placements this year due to the significant increase in production costs. Turkeys are highly susceptible to the disease.
However, the UK Health Security Agency continues to advise that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency advice remains unchanged - that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.
All poultry gatherings, including at fairs, shows and markets, remain banned, due to a large number of flocks mixing together and the risk posed by any infections spreading across the country.
Crawford remains fully operational, and our experienced agricultural experts are prepared and trained in biosecurity requirements so our clients can continue to instruct us in relation to claims with confidence.
We remain ready to assist and if you would like more information or have a particular poultry case you would like to discuss please do not hesitate to contact us via email@example.com.