Avian influenza (AI), commonly known as bird flu, is a highly contagious viral disease affecting the respiratory, digestive and/or nervous system of many species of birds. It may also pose a threat to people and other animals in certain circumstances.

Current Situation (January 2020)

In Northern Ireland the risk to poultry remains low, however avian flu is a constant threat to all poultry. In the winter months there is always an increasing risk of disease incursion from migrating birds. Bird keepers are reminded of the importance of excellent biosecurity and should follow DAERA Biosecurity Guidance.  Anyone who suspects an animal may be affected must report it immediately to the DAERA Helpline on 0300 200 7840 or to their local DAERA Direct Regional Office

If avian influenza were to enter our Northern Ireland flock, it would have a significant impact on our poultry industry, international trade and the wider economy.

DAERA continues to work closely with colleagues in Defra to monitor the situation.

Movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland

Specific Licencing arrangements put in place relating to poultry and hatching eggs, ornamental fowl, racing pigeons and captive birds following the detection of Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) in Suffolk in December 2019, have now been revoked.  There are currently no movement restrictions in place for movements from GB to NI.

General licencing requirements will be implemented with effect from midnight on Wednesday 29 January 2020. 

For more information, please see the following links: 

Avian Influenza text alert service

By signing up to our text alert service you can keep up to date with the latest news. You will receive immediate notification of any disease outbreak or other important disease information, enabling you to protect your flock at the earliest opportunity.

Subscription is easy.  Simply text ‘BIRDS’ to 67300.

The text alert service privacy notice explains how DAERA will use and protect your personal information in relation to the Avian Influenza Text Alert service.

Bird registration

Please note that by law, bird keepers should register their birds. This will enable the Department to provide you with up-to-date information about avian influenza and measures you can take to prevent spread to your birds. A registration form is available from the link below or by contacting your local DAERA Direct Regional Office

The Avian Influenza Stakeholder Group

The Stakeholder Group is attended by key stakeholders from across the poultry sector.  For more information on the content of these meetings, please click the link below.

Bird gatherings

The bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings general licence allows the collecting together of captive birds, which now includes poultry, game birds and waterfowl from more than one source at one location, while minimising the risk of disease spreading between flocks. The licence allows these bird gatherings to proceed subject to conditions and prior notification to the Local Divisional Veterinary Office.

Any persons holding or attending a permitted gathering must read and adhere to all of the conditions in the general licence  etc.  If you have any specific concerns you should discuss these with your private vet or local Divisional Veterinary Office. 

The Department will continue to monitor the avian influenza situation and subsequently the general licence may be amended or revoked.

Bird gatherings and pigeons racing from GB

Bird gatherings and pigeon racing from GB is allowed however you are required to comply with the conditions of the new general licences for each administration (England, Scotland and Wales). This includes notifying Animal Plant Health Agency (APHA) at least 7 days in advance of the race/show.

Contact details for APHA

For England:

Email: customeradvice@apha.gsi.gov.uk
Or telephone: 03000 200 301  

For Wales:

Email: APHA.CymruWales@APHA.gsi.gov.uk
Or telephone: 03003 038 268

For Scotland:

Email: APHAScotlandshows@apha.gsi.gov.uk
Or telephone: 01463 728 800

Pigeons or birds of prey

You can still fly pigeons or birds of prey, but you should try to prevent them from making direct contact with (or catching) wildfowl. Keep a close watch on the health of your birds.

Biosecurity guidance

The best defence – as with all exotic animal diseases – is a high level of awareness and good biosecurity.  Poultry keepers and businesses in Northern Ireland are reminded of the importance of maintaining biosecurity in their flocks and being vigilant to any signs of disease in their birds.

We have published a biosecurity leaflet for all bird keepers and detailed guidance on biosecurity and preventing welfare impacts in poultry and captive birds.

We have published a new biosecurity leaflet providing additional guidance for bird keepers visiting public places such as parks and wild waterfowl sites in order to reduce the risk of spreading disease to their birds.

If you suspect any strain of avian flu you must tell your local Divisional Veterinary Office immediately.  Failure to do so can be deemed an offence.

Further information on biosecurity and good practice is available via the links below:

Backyard flocks

If you keep a small flock of poultry or ‘captive birds’, you have an important role in preventing further disease outbreaks. An outbreak of bird flu in a backyard flock has the same impact on poultry keepers and trade in poultry as an outbreak on a commercial farm.

The above points are covered in our one page leaflet – print this and keep it handy, or put a copy on your noticeboard:

Northern Ireland situation

The Notifiable Epizootic Avian Disease Control Strategy describes how an outbreak of Avian Influenza or Newcastle Disease in Northern Ireland would be managed. Further information can be found at link below.

GB outbreaks

Further information is available on the DEFRA website, Scottish Government's website and Welsh Government's website.

Have we banned imports of birds and their products from areas with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza?

In line with EU-wide measures, we have banned imports of live birds and products from the protection and surveillance zones in affected countries which could potentially transmit the disease to other birds. This includes unprocessed feathers, as they might be contaminated with faecal material which can transmit the disease.

For Countries outside the EU (Third Countries), an EU wide import ban on live birds and certain poultry products will be put in place when a Third Country becomes affected by HPAI.

Cause of AI

There are both high pathogenic (HPAI) and low pathogenic (LPAI) forms and many strains.

LPAI does not always show up as disease in birds. However, it is present in some areas of the global wildfowl population.

LPAI can mutate into HPAI, especially when introduced into poultry populations.

Some strains of HPAI spread easily between birds and cause illness, with a high death rate, very quickly in poultry populations.

In rare cases, some HPAI strains can lead to severe illness and deaths in humans usually where there has been close contact with infected birds.

There are a limited number of reported cases of human-to-human spread of AI.

There is a possibility that were an individual to be infected with human and bird flu viruses there may be the potential for the virus to combine and produce a more dangerous variant which could spread from human to human.

The disease is notifiable: if you suspect the disease, you must immediately notify your local DVO.

It is therefore very important to ensure that any outbreak of AI is controlled quickly and that workers and veterinarians in close contact with infected birds are well protected. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has a contingency plan in place to ensure that this is so.

DAERA and key stakeholders are working closely together to ensure that the NI response to current circumstances is proportionate, appropriate and comprehensive. Key stakeholders agree that good vigilance and a high standard of biosecurity are required at the moment.

Clinical signs

It is important to be able to recognise the symptoms of Avian Influenza.

Typically the disease presents suddenly with affected flocks showing

  • high mortality rates
  • sudden death
  • cyanosis and oedema of the comb and wattles
  • dullness
  • unwilling to move
  • loss of appetite
  • respiratory distress
  • diarrhoea/sneezing/coughing
  • drop in egg production
  • nervous signs

Birds may often die without any signs of disease being apparent. However, there can be considerable variation in the clinical signs and severity of the disease.

For pictures of chickens with clinical signs of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza please see the link below.

If you suspect that your birds have Avian Influenza, you should contact your Private Veterinary Practitioner (PVP) or local DVO immediately.

Wild bird surveillance

Surveillance for avian influenza viruses in domestic poultry and wild birds is carried out in all European Member States.

Public reporting

If you find one or more dead gulls, waders, ducks, geese and swans (webbed feet, long legs or long neck) the DAERA Helpline should be contacted at 0300 200 7840. You will be asked for details of the finding and the location. If you find any other single dead birds, including garden birds, then you do not need to call the DAERA Helpline. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap after coming into contact with any animal and do not touch any sick or dead birds.

Please note that due to the current situation with Covid-19, not all dead wild bird collections will be collected, but reports can still be made to the helpline where the information will be recorded.  This will kept under review.

Handling of dead birds

If dead birds need to be handled, you should always take appropriate hygiene precautions such as wearing disposable protective gloves when picking up and handling carcases. If you don’t have gloves use a plastic bag. You should wash hands, nails and forearms thoroughly with soap and water after handling the carcase.

If dead wild birds must be disposed of, please place them in a plastic bag and dispose of them in your domestic bin, or alternatively bury them in your garden.

Wild bird cases

There has been one confirmed finding of Avian Influenza of the subtype H5N6 in County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 2018.

Multiple findings of HPAI H5N6 in wild birds have been made across GB and the Republic of Ireland since the start of January 2018.

Domestic poultry

The European Commission requires all Member States of the European Union to undertake surveys each year for avian influenza in poultry.

The purpose of this survey is to detect avian influenza (AI) virus infections of subtypes H5 and H7 in different species of poultry and provides valuable information across the EU for an early warning system of H5 and H7 AI infections.Early detection is also essential for effective control.

The flocks that are chosen for sampling are drawn from poultry premises selected at random. The survey includes chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and feathered game classified as poultry. In Northern Ireland, premises are contacted in advance by DAERA staff to arrange a convenient time for sampling. Blood samples are taken from a number of birds on each premises. The samples are then screened for the presence of antibodies to avian influenza viruses of subtypes H5 and H7.

Wetlands bird survey

As part of their ongoing Wetlands bird survey over the winter months, Northern Ireland Environment Agency staff along with Non-government organisation partners monitors and report any unusual mortality of wild birds to DAERA.

Contact details

DAERA Helpline on 0300 200 7840
USPCA Helpline 028 3025 1000


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