Bird flu hits Britain: Prevention zone introduced as third case confirmed

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

UK hopes to stop spread of bird flu with biosecurity measures / Pic: GettyImages-leischkadesign
UK hopes to stop spread of bird flu with biosecurity measures / Pic: GettyImages-leischkadesign

Related tags Avian influenza Bird flu

The UK’s Chief Vet has introduced an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) after three cases of bird flu were detected in domestic flocks.

The UK, Welsh and Scottish governments confirmed the zone will legally require all bird keepers in England, Scotland and Wales to follow strict biosecurity measures, introduced to prevent further spread of avian influenza (H5N8)

Two separate outbreaks of H5N8 were confirmed last week in kept poultry facilities and a third case of bird flu in captive birds was detected yesterday (11 November) at a broiler breeder farm in Herefordshire.

A ‘very small number’ of wild birds in South West of England have also been found to have had the disease, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) revealed.

The introduction of a prevention zone follows a decision to raise the risk level for avian influenza incursion in wild Birds in Great Britain from ‘medium’ to ‘high’ last week.

H5N8 is highly infections. According to the British Poultry Council, just one gram of faeces is enough to infect between one and ten million chickens. The AIPZ places a legal requirement for all bird keepers to step up biosecurity measures in order to try and stem the spread of the virus. 

UK Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said the measures would ‘help present the disease spreading’ to more poultry and 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 disease,”​ she explained.

The prevention zone requires all bird keepers in Great Britain to:

  • Take precautions against transfer of virus contamination between sites or premises, including cleansing and disinfection of footwear, vehicles, and equipment
  • Ensure the areas where birds kept are unattractive to wild birds. For example, by netting ponds and by removing wild bird food sources
  • Feed and water your birds in enclosed areas to discourage wild birds
  • Minimise movement of people in and out of bird enclosures
  • Clean and disinfect footwear and keep areas where birds live clean and tidy
  • Reduce any existing contamination by cleansing and disinfecting concrete areas and fencing off wet or boggy areas.
  • Exercise effective rodent control in areas poultry are kept
  • Record all vehicles and people who enter the premises or come into contact with birds (zoos are exempt)
  • Record all poultry, captive birds and egg movements must be kept and made available to a veterinary inspector on demand
  • Ensure bird housing is well maintained, with any water leaks or contamination routes rectified

Keepers with more than 500 birds are required to take extra biosecurity measures, including:

  • Operating effective barrier hygiene, including changing clothing and footwear before entering and exiting the live-bird area
  • Access to live-bird area is restricted to authorised personnel and essential equipment and vehicles
  • Thorough cleansing and disinfecting of housing and equipment must be carried out at the end of a production cycle before any new birds are introduced
  • Regularly inspect structural integrity of any building used to house poultry for holes and leaks, with particular emphasis on roofs, gutters, and downpipes. Any holes and leaks must be repaired without undue delay as previous cases of avian influenza have been linked to water ingress and flooding
  • Egg producers will need to ensure the packing, handling, and storage of second quality eggs / farm seconds is a managed in a biosecure manner
  • Egg trays must be cleansed and disinfected before use and records maintained as above

For free ranging poultry, all keepers must fence and secure outdoor range areas and 'actively manage ranges' to ensure the following:

  • The range area contains no feathers or faecal material from wild birds, and any carcases of wild birds are promptly removed
  • Access to open or standing water is restricted – i.e. fencing off or netting ponds or waterlogged land
  • Birds are not allowed access to anywhere they may come into contact with poultry on a neighbour’s site
  • Feed and water are kept indoors, and no feeding to take place in ranging areas
  • Actively discourage wild birds from entering fenced outdoor areas (for example using bird scarers, foils, streamers)
  • Any concrete paths or similar walkways are cleaned and disinfected regularly

‘Very low’ risk to human health

Middlemess stressed that Public Health England has confirmed the risk to public health is ‘very low’.

The food safety risk is also negligible, she continued. “The Food Standards Agency advises that bird flu poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers."

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, previous international outbreaks of avian influenza - which is highly pathogenic among the bird population - have seen a 'very small' number of human illnesses or deaths, all of which have been traced back to contact with poultry or uncooked poultry products.

NFU chief poultry adviser Aimee Mahony stressed that the wellbeing of livestock is ‘a farmer's top priority’.

“It is vital that all keepers of poultry ensure they have the relevant biosecurity measures in place to protect their birds from any risk of avian influenza. The health and welfare of their birds is a farmer’s top priority and practicing good biosecurity is the best way of guarding them from this disease.”

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