Protection zone against avian influenza declared

The English and Scottish governments have announced an avian influenza (AI) prevention zone in an attempt to prevent the spread of the H5N8 strain of the virus. 

This requires all poultry and captive birds to be kept indoors, or separate from wild birds, with the zones remaining in place for 30 days. The news follows recent outbreaks of a highly pathogenic strain of AI H5N8 in Europe, resulting in numerous bird deaths. As of yet, there have not been any reported cases of the strain in the UK.

The H5N8 virus does not pose a risk to human health, according to Public Health England (PHE).

“While no cases of H5N8 avian flu have been found in the UK, and PHE advises the public health threat is low, we are closely monitoring the situation across Europe and have scaled up surveillance in response to the heightened risk,” said chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens.

“As a precaution, and to allow time for poultry and captive bird-keepers to put in place appropriate biosecurity measures, we have declared a 30-day prevention zone to reduce the risk of infection from wild birds. Even when birds are housed, a risk of infection remains, so this must be coupled with good biosecurity – for example disinfecting clothing and equipment, reducing poultry movement and minimising contact between poultry and wild birds.”

Scotland’s chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas added that while it is common to see such viruses at this time of year, this strain is particularly dangerous to birds. “The risk of an HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] incursion into poultry in the UK remains at ‘low, but heightened’, although for wild birds the risk has been raised to ‘medium’,” she said.

“It is normal to see these viruses circulating among wild bird populations at this time of year. However, the strain seen in Europe appears to be particularly virulent which is a cause for some concern. Keeping birds indoors helps to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus, provided that poultry-keepers maintain good biosecurity on their premises and remain vigilant for any signs of disease.

“Consumers should not be concerned about eating eggs or poultry given the expert advice about food safety and human health.”  

The protection zones have been welcomed by the Poultry Health & Welfare Group. Chairman of the group, Mark Williams commented: “The Poultry Health & Welfare group welcomes Defra’s [the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs] decision to bring an enhanced biosecurity requirements for poultry and captive birds, including temporarily housing poultry in England. This is a precautionary measure to help reduce the risk from a strain of avian flu circulating in mainland Europe.

“The poultry industry has been liaising closely with Defra to ensure we are best prepared should the risk of bird flu heighten, and contingency plans are in place and under constant review. Most birds can be taken inside their houses within a matter of hours. Where birds like geese and game cannot be housed, measures will be put in place to ensure separation from wild birds.”

Defra’s advice on maintaining good biosecurity:
•    Cleanse and disinfect clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry. If possible, use disposable protective clothing.
•    Reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry are kept to reduce contamination from manure, slurry and other products and to use effective vermin control.
•    Thoroughly clean and disinfect housing at the end of a production cycle.
•    Keep fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all points where people should use it, such as farm entrances and before entering poultry housing or enclosures.
•    Minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and wild birds. This includes ensuring all feed and water is not accessible to wild birds. 

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