Avian Influenza Prevention Zone Declared
A country-wide bird flu prevention zone has been declared by the Government after 31 wild birds were found to be infected in Dorset and 13 wild birds were found dead in Warwickshire. UK Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens said has said:
‘Following the latest finding of bird flu in wild birds in Warwickshire, we are extending our action to help prevent the virus spreading to poultry and other domestic birds.
‘Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, you are now legally required to meet enhanced biosecurity requirements and this is in your interests to do, to protect your birds from this highly infectious virus.’
Preventing the Spread
The aim in these situations is to make sure that people who keep birds reduce the chances of their birds having any contact with the outside world, where the flu virus may be passed to them by a wild bird. To this end, the Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs, or Defra, have put forward requirements in order to ensure the situation does not worsen.
Those who keep birds in open pens should cover them up. Food and water should be given to birds only in enclosed areas. Owners should reduce the amount of movement in and out of pens to a minimum, and footwear should also be disinfected to keep the bird pen clean and avoid potentially carrying in the virus from the outside.
In addition, those with over 500 birds are legally required to take increased measures, such as keeping access to their land to an essential minimum, changing footwear and clothing when entering bird enclosures, and also cleaning and disinfecting vehicles which enter the farm from the outside.
No Blanket Ban
Experts at Defra have said that the situation is not yet at a stage whereby a cull needs to be considered, nor does a blanket ban on the movement of birds need to be put in place – both of which would of course have hugely detrimental effects on the farming industry and so are not to be imposed unless strictly necessary.
Moreover, the Food Standards Agency has affirmed for those who are concerned that avian flu does not pose an issue to food safety for UK consumers.
Tests are currently ongoing to ascertain whether the birds found dead in Warwickshire were infected with the H5N6 strain of the virus which has made its way across wild bird populations in Europe recently. Experts have stated though that it has already been differentiated from the H5N6 variant which affected people in China last year and therefore that it should not be considered a public health threat at this stage.
Report signs of the virus
The Government have urged bird keepers to register their birds with Defra so that if there appears to be an outbreak in your area, Defra can contact you quickly to advise you as to the correct course of action.
Furthermore, if your birds individually show signs of disease, or if you are aware of any dead wild birds that have been found in your area, such as wild geese, gulls, ducks, swans or birds of prey, then you should call the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.