Government takes measures to suspend avian flu spread

Following the outbreak of a case of H5N8 avian flu at a turkey farm in Lincolnshire, the government has placed a temporary suspension on gatherings of certain birds species.

Announced Tuesday 20 December, the restrictions will apply across England, Scotland and Wales. The ban is on birds that are at higher risk of avian flu including chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese. The restriction is placed on events such as livestock fairs, auctions and bird shows.

Since the disease was declared in England on Friday, 16 December, it has since been confirmed that all 2,500 birds at the farm have been destroyed. The farm has been disinfected and there have been no more reported cases, although restrictions around the site remain in place.

The ban comes as part of the government’s measures to tackle the disease and reduce the risk of the virus spreading. This includes a requirement for all poultry to be kept indoors, or otherwise separated from contact with wild birds. Poultry keepers have also been provided with advice to ensure that they obtain strict biosecurity standards.

The gatherings ban does not apply to pigeons or aviary birds that are at a much lower risk of passing the disease onto domestic poultry – although it will be kept under review and may be lifted or amended should the risk level change.

Public Health England has reaffirmed that the risk to public health from the virus is low, with the Food Standards Agency confirming that it does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

“While we have seen no further cases of bird flu following the outbreak in Lincolnshire, we must continue to be vigilant and do all we can to protect against this highly pathogenic strain of the disease,” said chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens.

“This ban on gatherings is a proportionate step that will help protect our farmers and bird keepers from seeing their flocks infected with this disease that can have a devastating impact on poultry. The risk to human health continues to be very low and there is no impact on the food chain, but infection at a gathering could lead to rapid dispersal of infection to kept birds in many locations.

“Our Avian Influenza Prevention Zone remains in place across the country and anyone who has regular contact with birds should stay alert for signs of disease, maintain the highest biosecurity standards and take all reasonable steps to minimise contact between poultry and wild birds.”

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) told bird keepers to report suspected disease immediately and they must maintain high biosecurity standards by:
•    Reducing the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry or captive birds are kept
•    Taking precautions to avoid the transfer of contamination by cleansing and disinfection of equipment, vehicles and footwear
•    Ensuring that feed and water can’t be accessed by wild birds
•    Implementing effective vermin control programmes around buildings where poultry or captive birds are kept

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