(Also known as AI or Bird Flu)
What Is Avian Influenza?
Avian Influenza or Bird Flu is a viral respiratory infection which infects many different bird species. The virus is spread by wild water fowl along their migration paths which is why it mainly affects the UK in November. Ducks, Geese and other water fowl will carry the virus without necessarily showing any symptoms or getting ill, these wild birds spread the virus by contaminating water sources that domestic poultry use, either by direct contact or the spread of infected droppings. Unlike water fowl, chickens and turkeys that become infected will get very sick and die, sometimes within 24 hours.
There are 2 strains of Avian Influenza, Low pathogenic and High pathogenic. Low path strains will make birds sick but not kill them; signs of this infection are respiratory discomfort, a swollen head with blue colouring to the head and neck, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and a stop or reduction in egg production.
High path strains will have all the above signs but it will also cause massive organ failure and death. It is imperative and a legal responsibility to report all suspected cases to DEFRA.
Is Avian Influenza a risk to humans?
Yes and no, AI is not considered to be a major risk to the public as the virus doesn’t survive well in the environment, it is however a risk to people spending a lot of time with their birds. Although it may seem hard, if you suspect your birds are infected you must not touch them or cuddle them, the virus will contaminate your clothes and hair which could then be spread to yourself and other birds on your property. AI does not travel through the air but it can be carried on boots, clothes, tools, wheels, vehicles etc.
What Bio Security measures should I put in place?
Keeping things clean is the key, all boots should be thoroughly cleaned when entering or leaving any area where birds are kept. A foot bath with disinfectant will work well for this but please remember that the boots must be free of mud and dirt, you cannot disinfect mud and faeces so always remove contaminants before sanitising.
Control vermin, rats and mice are an issue for poultry keepers at the best of times but especially so when there is a bird flu outbreak, even though the rodents won’t carry the virus IN them, they will carry it ON them and then spread it to feeders, drinkers, bedding and directly to birds.
You must keep records of anyone that visits your property and comes into contact with the same areas where poultry are kept; this means names, contact details and number plates. AI can also be carried on eggs so a record of everyone purchasing eggs from you must also be kept.
As well as vermin, AI can be carried on the paws and fur of all animals so dogs, cats and other livestock must be kept away. DEFRA’s website will advise further on appropriate action to take - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu
What should I do to discourage wild birds from mixing with my flock?
The most likely way that you flock will become infected is direct contact with wild birds so by removing them you can protect your flock, how easy this is to achieve depends on how many birds you have, if you have a small flock of less than 10 birds this should be fairly simple with the use of tarps over their runs or if you have a large shed or barn they could live inside for a while.
It becomes more difficult when you have large flocks, lots of different species or birds in more than one area, it is not possible to cover acres of land so birds should be penned in as much as possible and all food and water sources kept inside, where an actual building can’t be used it is important to remove all sight of food and water so that wild birds haven’t got a reason to land, food should be kept under a lean too or under tarps or shelters and never scattered on the ground.
Fence off any ponds, lakes or standing water and don’t harvest rain water from any coop roof tops. Clean and disinfect any concrete walkways and paths regularly and stop feeding wild birds, remove any existing wild bird feeders.
Do my birds have to come inside?
This does depend on what order DEFRA has currently in place and if you fall into an infected areas catchment area. By ‘inside’ they don’t mean bringing the birds into your homes but they must no longer be allowed to free range in open fields or gardens. Self contained coops and runs will be fine as there is no access to wild birds.
I’m not a farmer and only have a few pet chickens; does all this apply to me?
Unfortunately yes it does, it is the responsibility of all poultry keepers to help stop the spread of disease and get things back to normal, the quicker the virus is brought under control the sooner DEFRA will lift the control measures.
Failure to comply and help to stop the spread of the virus can result in an unlimited fine or even imprisonment.
To register for updates from APHA please visit - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/apha-alert-subscription-service
For more advice and information please visit - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu