Chief Veterinary Officer stresses importance of excellent biosecurity

Date published: 15 January 2020

A case of non-notifiable avian influenza H6N1 being has been identified in a broiler breeder farm in County Fermanagh. 

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While this is a less serious strain of influenza, which does not require further action by DAERA, Chief Veterinary Officer for Northern Ireland (NI), Dr Robert Huey has urged bird keepers to maintain excellent biosecurity.

Dr Huey said: “A veterinary investigation has concluded and a case of non-notifiable avian influenza has been identified in a commercial farm in County Fermanagh.

“Movement restrictions were placed on the holding as a precautionary measure whilst the veterinary investigation was in progress. The results received today confirm this strain was a non-notifiable avian disease of the subtype H6N1 and restrictions have now been lifted.

“Although this is a non-notifiable strain of the disease, it is a timely reminder to us all that avian influenza is a constant threat to all poultry flocks and how devastating it would be to our poultry industry should a notifiable case be confirmed in Northern Ireland.” 

There is always an increased risk of avian disease incursion in the winter from migrating birds with several confirmed cases in Europe over the last few months.  A case of notifiable Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) of the H5 strain was recently confirmed in a broiler breeder farm in Suffolk in December, while several cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) have also been confirmed in Poland in the last fortnight.

Dr Huey continued: “These recent cases represent warning signals for all poultry keepers that must not be ignored including those keeping game birds and pet birds. All flock keepers regardless of size are urged to act now by maintaining good biosecurity at all times in order to reduce the risk of disease transmission to their flocks.’’ 

“The presence of a notifiable strain of avian influenza in the Northern Ireland flock would have a significant impact on our poultry industry, international trade and the wider economy. It is therefore vitally important that we take the necessary steps to protect our national poultry flock, particularly in these winter months.

“In Northern Ireland the risk to poultry remains low, however, I urge all bird keepers to remain vigilant and to alert DAERA if they suspect any signs of the disease in their flocks. I would also encourage bird keepers to subscribe to the avian influenza text alert service by simply texting: ‘BIRDS’ to 67300”. You will be kept updated with the latest news and will receive immediate notification of any disease outbreak.”

Signs that poultry keepers should look for in their birds include an increased number of deaths, a swollen head, discolouration of the neck and throat, a loss of appetite, respiratory distress, diarrhoea and fewer eggs laid – although clinical signs can vary between species of bird

Further information on biosecurity and how to prevent disease is available here: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/avianflu

Anyone who suspects an animal may be affected by a notifiable disease must report it to their local DAERA Direct regional office. 

Bird keepers are reminded that by law they must register their birds. Registration forms are available online or by contacting your local DAERA Direct Regional Office

Public Health Agency advice is that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency has made it clear that Avian Influenza does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers. Thoroughly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

    Notes to editors: 

    1. Non notifiable avian influenza is a less serious strain of avian influenza. It can cause mild breathing problems, but affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection.

    2. If avian influenza is suspected keepers must report it immediately to the DAERA Helpline on 0300 200 7840 or by contacting their DAERA Direct Regional Offices

    3. If the public find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, they should report them to the DAERA Helpline on 0300 200 7840

    4. Clinical signs that poultry keepers should look for in their birds include increased mortality, a swollen head, discolouration of neck and throat, loss of appetite, respiratory distress, diarrhoea and fewer eggs laid – although clinical signs vary between species of bird

    5. Further information on biosecurity and how to prevent disease is available here: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/avian-influenza-ai

    6. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook at http://twitter.com/daera_ni and http://www.facebook.com/daerani.gov.uk

    7. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or via email to pressoffice.group@daera-ni.gov.uk Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer on 028 9037 8110.

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