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How to spot bird flu, what to do if you suspect it and how to prevent it

If you keep poultry, you should keep a close watch on them for signs of bird flu, and maintain good biosecurity at all times.

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How to spot #BirdFlu, what to do if you suspect it and how to prevent it

Here’s the latest advice from Defra on bird flu...


Latest situation


Bird flu is not currently present in the UK but it is present in Europe. As winter approaches, the risk of bird flu in the UK is likely to increase.


Defra currently regards the risk of bird flu occurring in the UK as medium in wild birds, and low in poultry (provided there’s a good standard of biosecurity).


This is because the wild bird migration season is underway, bringing birds to the UK from areas where the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain of bird flu is present.


There have been recent bird flu cases in poultry and wild birds in Italy, in wild birds in Germany, and in poultry in Bulgaria.

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Biosecurity advice


If you keep poultry or other captive birds, you must take action to reduce the risk of disease in your flock by following government advice on biosecurity.


Good biosecurity improves the overall health and productivity of your flock by helping keep out poultry diseases such as avian influenza and limiting the spread of disease in an outbreak.


This applies just as much if you only have a few birds as pets, or if you have a large commercial flock.


An outbreak of bird flu in back garden chickens results in the same restrictions on movement of birds.


It has the same impact on farmers and trade in poultry as an outbreak on a commercial farm.


To ensure good biosecurity, all poultry keepers should:


  • minimise movement in and out of bird enclosures
  • clean footwear before and after visiting birds, using a Defra approved disinfectant at entrances and exits
  • clean and disinfect vehicles and equipment that have come into contact with poultry
  • keep areas where birds live clean and tidy, and regularly disinfect hard surfaces such as paths and walkways
  • humanely control rats and mice
  • place birds’ food and water in fully enclosed areas protected from wild birds, and remove any spilled feed regularly
  • keep birds separate from wildlife and wild waterfowl by putting suitable fencing around outdoor areas they access
  • keep a close watch on birds for any signs of disease and report any very sick birds or unexplained deaths to your vet

Report signs of disease


You must keep a close watch on your birds for any signs of disease, and must seek prompt advice from your vet if you have any concerns.


If you suspect any type of avian influenza you must report it immediately by calling the DefraRural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. Failure to do so is an offence.



How to spot avian influenza


There are 2 types of avian influenza.


Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is the more serious type. It is often fatal in birds. The main clinical signs of HPAI in birds are:


  • swollen head
  • blue discolouration of neck and throat
  • loss of appetite
  • respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • fewer eggs laid
  • increased mortality


Clinical signs can vary between species of bird and some species (for example ducks and geese) may show minimal clinical signs.


Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is usually less serious. It can cause mild breathing problems, but affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection.


The severity of LPAI depends on the type of bird and whether it has any other illnesses.


Anyone who keeps poultry must keep a close watch on them for any signs of disease, and must seek prompt advice from their vet if they have any concerns.

How avian influenza is spread


The disease spreads from bird to bird by direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and faeces.


It can also be spread by contaminated feed and water or by dirty vehicles, clothing and footwear.


The avian influenza virus changes frequently, creating new strains, and there is a constant risk that one of the new strains may spread easily among people. But there is no evidence that any recent strain of avian influenza has been able to spread directly between people.


Avian influenza isn’t an airborne disease.


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