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.

Avian influenza is a notifiable animal disease. If you keep poultry (including game birds or as pets) please remain vigilant for any signs of disease in your flock. If you have any concerns about the health of your birds please report it to your Private Veterinary Practitioner. If notifiable disease is suspected, contact the DAERA Helpline on 0300 200 7840 or your local DAERA Direct Regional Office. Failure to do so is an offence.

Contact the DAERA helpline on 0300 200 7840 if you find one or more dead gulls, waders, ducks, geese, swans (webbed feet, long legs or long neck) or birds of prey. Any other single dead birds do not need to be reported.

Bird registration

Please note that by law, bird keepers should register their birds. This applies to all birds except those kept within your home. 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.

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.

Latest Situation

20 May 2021

The risk of avian influenza in poultry with good biosecurity has now reduced to low.  As a result, the mandatory enhanced biosecurity requirements brought in as part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone ( AIPZ ) which was declared on 1 December 2020 have been lifted from midday today. See the AIPZ section for more information.

All bird gatherings, including poultry gatherings and pigeon gatherings organised for races from mainland Europe will be permitted from midday today, subject to certain conditions under General Licence.

For more information see our section on Bird Gatherings.

The epidemiology report of the January 2021 outbreak can be found here.

Avian Influenza Prevention Zone

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) for all poultry and captive birds across the whole of Northern Ireland (NI) from 1 December 2020 with additional housing measures in force from 23 December 2020.

The risk of avian influenza in poultry with good biosecurity has been reduced to ‘low’ for all poultry.  As a result, the mandatory enhance biosecurity requirements that were brought in as part of the AIPZ have been lifted from midday 20 May 2021.

The AIPZ Declaration has now been revoked.

While the AIPZ has been lifted, bird keepers are encouraged to maintain high levels of biosecurity and continue to use the Biosecurity Checklist.  Infection may still be present in the environment and good biosecurity is essential for the health of your birds.

Further details on the lifting of AIPZ can be found here Avian Influenza Prevention Zone in Northern Ireland lifted | Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (daera-ni.gov.uk)

The AIPZs in England,  Scotland and Wales came to an end at midday 15 May 2021

Poultry flock owners should still remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their flocks.

Avian Influenza Map Viewer

DAERA have recently launched an Avian Influenza Map Viewer where, in the event of a disease outbreak, you can view the location and boundaries of any Protection and Surveillance Zones for the control of Avian Influenza.

Launch the Avian Influenza Map Viewer

Biosecurity Checklist

A self-assessment tool to aid flock keepers in the review of their biosecurity arrangements and provide the necessary assurances is available, to access this tool, Click Here. DAERA encourages anyone who keeps birds from one bird upwards to consider this checklist to protect your birds, the poultry industry and our economy over this high risk period. The checklist can be completed online and saved to your device.

General Licences now available

Current AI Situation

To date, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N8 has been confirmed on two holdings in Northern Ireland. The first case was confirmed as HPAI H5N8 in Clough (Clough Townland area), County Antrim on 6 January. The second case in Lisburn (Maze Townland area), County Antrim was confirmed as HPAI H5N8 on 11 January. Disease control zones were initiated around both premises. 

Following successful completion of disease control activities and surveillance within the zones, the Surveillance Zones surrounding IP1 (Clough) and IP2 (Lisburn) were revoked and restrictions lifted on 10 and 11 February respectively.

In the Republic of Ireland (ROI), The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) introduced similar measures which came into force on 21 December following a significant number of reported cases of HPAI H5N8 in wild birds and the confirmation of the same strain in a small turkey flock in County Wicklow.

See link below for more details.

DAFM Issues Housing Notice for Birds as a Precautionary Measure Against Avian Influenza (www.gov.ie)

Housing orders were declared on 14 December in EnglandScotland and Wales. For further information on the situation in GB, Click Here.

The Department continues to work closely with colleagues in Defra and DAFM to monitor the situation across GB and the ROI.

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

Risk Level

Avian influenza is present in the NI wild bird population. The risk level for an avian influenza incursion to poultry in NI has been assessed as low, with biosecurity levels on individual sites a crucial mitigation factor. Biosecurity must remain a priority. All poultry keepers must maintain good biosecurity to reduce the risk of transmission of the disease to their flocks.

The Chief Vets from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are urging bird keepers across the UK to maintain and strengthen their biosecurity measures in order to prevent further outbreaks of avian influenza in the UK, see AI Press release.

If you keep poultry or captive birds, please follow our Biosecurity Guidance and use our Biosecurity Checklist.

If you keep poultry (including game birds or as pets) please remain vigilant for any signs of disease in your flock and if you have any concerns about the health of your birds please report it to the DAERA Helpline on 0300 200 7840 or to your local DAERA Direct Regional Office.

Contact the DAERA helpline on 0300 200 7840 if you find one or more dead gulls, waders, ducks, geese, swans (webbed feet, long legs or long neck) or birds of prey. Any other single dead birds do not need to be reported.

Public Health advice is that the risk to the public’s health is very low. The Food Standards Agency advises that avian influenza does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

Avian influenza is unconnected with coronavirus (Covid-19).

You can sign up to our text alert service to keep up to date with the latest important news. Subscription is easy. Simply text ‘BIRDS’ to 67300.You don’t need to sign up if you have registered your poultry.

Bird gatherings

Following a Veterinary Risk Assessment, bird gatherings involving the collecting of together of poultry or captive birds are now permitted in NI under the conditions of a general licence. 

Bird gatherings include (but are not limited to) bird fairs, markets, shows, sales, exhibitions, races or vehicles used to transport live birds where the birds are brought together from multiple premises and some premises used for dealing or internet sales. 

The bird gatherings general licence is in effect from midday on 20 May 2021. See link below.

General Licence

The Department will continue to monitor the avian influenza situation.

Pigeons or birds of prey

You are now permitted to race your pigeons in NI.

You are permitted to fly 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.

Movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland

Following the confirmation of Avian Influenza in GB, new licensing arrangements came into force from 00:01hrs on 5 November 2020

The following General Licences relating to the movement of live birds, hatching eggs, captive birds and pigeons into NI have been revoked:

  • DAERA/GEN/20/01 – Poultry & Hatching Eggs from Great Britain
  • DAERA/GEN/20/02 – Racing Pigeons from Great Britain
  • DAERA/GEN/20/03 – Ornamental Fowl & Captive Birds from Great Britain

All movements of live birds and hatching eggs from GB including those that transit through ROI must be accompanied by a Specific Licence. Applications should be made via the following form and submitted to tradeadminpost@daera-ni.gov.uk.

Please Click Here for an application form and further information regarding movements into NI.

Trade implications

There are considerable economic implications of epizootic disease outbreaks when they occur. The confirmation of HPAI has the potential to have a significant impact on our poultry industry and on international trade.

UK country free status for avian influenza has now been lost. Demonstrating freedom from Notifiable Avian disease is of major importance for international trade of live animals and products of animal origin. The status enhances the reputation of NI across the full range of agri- food exports.

With the lifting of the surveillance zones, EU trade in poultry products has fully resumed, including exports which are sent first to Great Britain for onward export. Some Third Country trade continues to be affected by the imposition of restrictions determined by trading partners, and this situation will remain the case to varying degrees until such time as freedom from the disease can be awarded, for either Northern Ireland as a region or alternatively for the entire United Kingdom, by the World Animal Health Organisation (Office Internationale Epizootic O.I.E).

The Avian Influenza Stakeholder Group

The Stakeholder Group is attended by key stakeholders from across the poultry sector. Meetings take place on a regular basis.

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

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 also published a 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:

Vaccination

The vaccination of poultry and most captive birds against avian influenza is not currently permitted. Vaccination is not a routine control measure and is a practice restricted by legislation.

What signs should I look out for?

There are 2 types of avian influenza. Highly Pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and Low Pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI).

Highly pathogenic avian influenza is the more serious type. The main clinical signs of HPAI in birds are:

  • Swollen head
  • Blue discoloration of neck and throat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Respiratory distress, such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fewer eggs laid
  • Increased mortality
  • Nervous signs
  • Dullness

Clinical signs can vary between species of bird and some species, for example, ducks and geese, may show minimal clinical 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.

Avian Influenza is a notifiable disease. If you suspect that your birds have Avian Influenza, by law you must report it. You should contact your Private Veterinary Practitioner (PVP) or local DVO immediately so that it can be investigated.

See some photos of clinical signs of avian influenza on Flickr.

How avian influenza is spread

Avian influenza is not an airborne virus. It spreads from bird to bird by direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and faeces. It can also be spread by contaminated feed and water or by dirty vehicles, clothing and footwear.

There is no evidence that any recent strain of avian influenza has been able to spread directly between people.

It is 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.

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.

Wild bird surveillance

DAERA engages in year-round Avian Influenza (AI) surveillance of dead wild birds submitted via public reports.

Dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, should be reported to the DAERA helpline (Tel: 0300 200 7840).

We then collect some of these birds and test them to help us understand how the disease is distributed geographically and in different types of bird. Not all birds will be collected.

Do not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that you find.

Where dead birds are not required for surveillance purposes it is the landowner’s responsibility to safely dispose of the carcases as animal by-products.

Where dead birds are on public land it is the local authorities responsibility to safely dispose of the carcases as animal by-products.

Wild bird cases

As of 2 December 2020, there have been nine positive cases of High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N8 confirmed in wild birds in NI across six different locations.

There have been multiple findings of AI in wild birds across GB in 2020.

Further details of the latest avian influenza findings in wild birds in Europe can be found in the outbreak assessments available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/avian-influenza-bird-flu-in-europe.

Public reporting

The DAERA Helpline should be contacted at 0300 200 7840 if you find

  • one or more dead gulls, waterfowl, including waders/ducks/geese/swans, and birds of prey 
  • five or more birds of any other species

You will be asked for details of the finding and the location.

Do not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that you find.

If you find any other single dead birds, including garden birds, you do not need to call the DAERA Helpline. You should contact your local council for advice on disposal.

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 birds 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.

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

DAERA Direct Regional Offices

Contact details for APHA

England
Email: customeradvice@apha.gsi.gov.uk
Tel: 03000 200 301

Wales
Email: apha.cymruwales@apha.gsi.gov.uk
Tel: 03003 038 268

Scotland
Email: aphascotlandshows@apha.gsi.gov.uk
Tel: 01463 728 800

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