Current situation (October 2019)
The current risk of avian influenza occurring in the UK in wild birds and poultry is ‘low’.
There have been no detections of avian influenza in poultry or kept birds in the UK since June 2017. The UK has retained its OIE country freedom status since September 2017. In Northern Ireland there has never been a case of avian influenza detected in poultry.
As winter approaches there will be an increasing risk from avian influenza in Northern Ireland from migrating wild birds to higher risk areas. These are generally areas near where wild birds (and in particular gulls and wild waterfowl) gather, such as lakes, marshes or estuaries. These could infect domestic poultry.
Although the risk is currently low, poultry keepers, including game birds and pet birds should follow DAERA Biosecurity Guidance and remain watchful for any signs of disease in their flock.
The Chief Veterinary Officers across the UK are encouraging all poultry keepers to take action now to reduce the risk of disease over the winter.
For more information, please see the following links:
- Latest situation in England and Wales(external link opens in a new window / tab)
- Frequently asked questions and answers
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.
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.
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. Frequently asked questions and answers are available.
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.
- English General Licence for Bird Gatherings -Bird gatherings: general licence - GOV.UK
- Welsh General Licence for Bird Gatherings - Welsh Government | Bird gatherings and advice
- Scottish General Licence for Bird Gatherings-Scottish Government bird gatherings licence
Contact details for APHA
Or telephone: 03000 200 301
Or telephone: 03003 038 268
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.
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:
- Help prevent Avian Influenza - biosecurity information leaflet
- Biosecurity and preventing welfare impacts in poultry and captive birds
- Guidance on Avian Influenza for hunters
- Avian Influenza labelling guidance
- Poultry keepers must continue to follow the existing animal welfare rules
- Bird Flu and Gamebirds: Standing advice
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.
Movements into Northern Ireland from GB
Additional trade conditions/controls put in place as a result of the H5N8 Avian Influenza outbreaks in Great Britain from December 2016 to June 2017 have been removed. The normal general licensing arrangements relating to the importation of poultry, poultry products including meat and table eggs and captive birds from GB apply from 13 September 2017.
For more information on current trade conditions, please see the link below.
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.
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
- unwilling to move
- loss of appetite
- respiratory distress
- 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.
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.
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.
Further advice on what to do when you find a dead wild bird can be found here:
Wild bird cases
There has been one confirmed finding of Avian Influenza of the subtype H5N6 in County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 2018.
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.
DAERA Helpline on 0300 200 7840
USPCA Helpline 028 3025 1000