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 (21 March 2017)

Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ)

New AIPZ from 17 March to 30 April 2017

The Department has announced the declaration of a further Avian Influenza Prevention Zone from 17 March until 30 April 2017.  As part of the requirements of the new AIPZ, keepers may let their poultry and captive birds out as long as they follow the additional biosecurity mitigation measures specified in the declaration.  The full text of the declaration  describes the list of requirements for all bird keepers. A checklist to assist bird keepers with compliance with the biosecurity requirements of the AIPZ, including the additional mitigation measures (for those wishing to let their birds outside) is also provided.  Frequently asked questions on the Prevention Zone (including guidance on the biosecurity measures) are also available.

General guidance on biosecurity is available in the links below.  Avian influenza is a notifiable disease and if you suspect it you must report it to your local Divisional Veterinary Office.

An Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) updated Outbreak Assessment for the current situation in Europe is available here.

Bird gatherings

From noon on 23 December 2016, a temporary suspension of gatherings of some species of birds is now in force across Northern Ireland.  This is similar to arrangements already in place in the rest of the UK.

The bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings general licence allows the collecting together of captive birds (not poultry, game birds or 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 and the additional requirements highlighted in the declaration of the Prevention Zone. However, you may wish to consider rescheduling gatherings if it is practical to do so - avian influenza virus can be spread by visitors on their boots, 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.

This licence permits gatherings of captive birds (not poultry, gamebirds or waterfowl), which include:

  1. Columbiformes (including doves and pigeons)
  2. Passerines (including finches, budgerigar, canary)
  3. Psittaciformes (including parrots, macaws, cockatiels)
  4. Falconiformes (including hawks, harriers, buzzards, eagles)
  5. Strigiformes (including owls)

The species of poultry that may not benefit from this general licence and are prohibited in accordance with regulation 6(4)(e) of the Avian Influenza and influenza of Avian Origin in mammals Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007 are:

  1. birds of the family galliforme (including pheasants, partridge, quail, chickens, turkey, guinea fowl)
  2. birds of the family anseriforme (including ducks, geese, swans)
  3. birds that are reared or kept in captivity for the production of meat or eggs for consumption, the production of other commercial products, for restocking supplies of game or for the purposes of any breeding programme for the production of these categories of birds

The precautionary ban on the movement of birds directly from GB to attend bird gatherings and pigeon races in Northern Ireland remains in place. 

Birds that have travelled directly from NI to GB to attend shows/gatherings/races will not be allowed to return directly to NI from these events.  The return of these birds will only be possible on receipt of a specific import licence – please see link below for more information.  Please note that a specific import licence will only be granted for imports from an Avian influenza free area in GB.

The Department will keep this situation under review and subsequently the general licence may be amended or revoked.

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.

Game birds and shoots

Shoots have not been banned in the Prevention Zone.

If game birds are kept captive, they are covered by the Prevention Zone rules. Once game birds have been released they are classified as wild birds. The person who released the game birds is no longer classed as the ‘keeper’ of the birds.

Where released game birds continue to be fed and watered this can continue, though you should make reasonable efforts to minimise the chance of other wild birds accessing their feed and water. You should use commercial feed and fresh or treated water.

Advice on rearing game birds and shooting whilst the Prevention Zone is in force is available from the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (updated on 3 March 2017). This has been put together by seven leading countryside and shooting organisations (BASC, CA, CLA, GFA, GWCT, NGO and SGA) and endorsed by Defra, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments.

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 new biosecurity leaflet for all bird keepers and detailed guidance on biosecurity and preventing disease in captive birds and separating domestic birds from wild birds in a Prevention Zone. 

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

We’ve put together a short leaflet to help keepers of small flocks of poultry to comply with the legal requirements of the Prevention Zone.

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

Confirmed cases of avian influenza (H5N8) since start of December 2016:

IP number Date of declaration Description of premises and location
IP1 16 Dec 2016 Turkeys at a farm near Louth, Lincolnshire
IP2 3 Jan 2017 Backyard flock of chickens and ducks at a premises in Pontyberem, Carmarthenshire
IP3 6 Jan 2017 Backyard flock of chickens and ducks on a premises near Settle in North Yorkshire
IP4 16 Jan 2017 Turkeys at a farm in East Lindsay, Lincolnshire
IP5 24 Jan 2017 Commercial flock of breeding pheasants at a premises in Pilling, Preston, Lancashire
IP6 26 Jan 2017 Turkeys at a farm near Boston, Lincolnshire
IP7 27 Jan 2017 Commercial pheasants at a game rearing unit near Pilling, Wyre District, Lancashire
IP8 30 Jan 2017 Commercial game birds at a rearing unit near Pilling, Wyre District, Lancashire
IP9 14 Feb 2017 Commercial Poultry Premises near Redgrave, Mid Suffolk
IP10 24 Feb 2017 Small flock of chickens at a farm near Haltwhistle, Northumberland

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

Trade

Movements into Northern Ireland

All general licences relating to the movement into Northern Ireland of poultry, day old chicks, hatching eggs, ornamental fowl, racing pigeons, captive birds, poultry products, heat treated poultry meat, other poultry meat, table eggs and egg products etc. are revoked.

New specific licensing arrangements are in effect from 9.00 am, Monday 19 December 2016.

Anyone wishing to bring any of the above categories of poultry/birds/products into Northern Ireland or requiring further information should contact the Department’s Trade Section on (028) 90 52 0865 or email tradeadminpost@daera-ni.gov.uk.

Have we banned imports of birds and their products from GB?

From 9am on 19 December 2016, all existing general licences relating to the importation of poultry and hatching eggs, ornamental fowl, racing pigeons and captive birds from GB are revoked. New specific licensing arrangements have been put in place.

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.

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.

Wild bird cases

The table below shows findings of avian influenza of the subtype H5N8 in Northern Ireland.

Location Species involved Total number of birds testing positive Week
Mid Ulster Swan, Whooper Swan 2 Week 5 (2017)
Mid Ulster Chinese Goose 1 Week 7 (2017)
Mid Ulster Whooper Swan 1 Week 8 (2017)

Multiple findings of HPAI H5N8 in wild birds have also been made across GB and the Republic of Ireland since 19th December 2016.

Wild Bird Surveillance Results 2016

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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