Avian influenza guidance for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre vets - Veterinary Practice
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Avian influenza guidance for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre vets

The RSPCA, BVZS and Scottish SPCA have written new guidelines for vets dealing with avian influenza outbreaks at wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres

wild fowl flying

Six vets have authored 10-page guidance, sharing their knowledge and experiences of tackling avian influenza in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres in the UK.

They hope this guidance will help wildlife centres navigate through this challenging period as it draws on their own experiences of avian influenza.

The practical guide, based on the charities’ own experiences, was published on Tuesday 15 August 2023 and made available online for free for ease of access with the aim of sharing what these organisations have learnt.

It contains information on protecting centres, limiting potential losses and minimising disruption in the event of the admission of a bird infected with avian influenza.

Wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres treating birds in the UK are, by their very nature, at an increased risk of encountering avian influenza, which is a highly infectious notifiable disease.

The new guidance is aimed at veterinary surgeons and other wildlife rehabilitation professionals working in, or in collaboration with, these centres.

As every wildlife rehabilitation centre is unique in its geography, staffing, resources, structure, species admitted and volume of intake, current published guidelines produced by Defra and the Animal and Plant Health Agency are not able to be specific to individual centres.

The new avian influenza guidance for wildlife and rehabilitation centre vets covers a wide range of issues, from contingency planning, AI testing, PPE and detailed biosecurity advice.

It will help users decide on admissions policy, triaging, official reporting obligations and APHA’s approach to suspected or confirmed avian influenza cases at their wildlife centres.

RSPCA chief veterinary officer Caroline Allen said: “The RSPCA knows only too well the worry and devastation that bird flu can cause.

“As this terrible disease has hit so close to home recently, we have all been on a real learning curve, developing methods of best practice and working with APHA to understand and interpret official rules, which are not always designed for the wildlife rehabilitation setting.

“We hope that by sharing what we have learnt through our experiences with Avian Influenza we can now help others.

“Wildlife rehabilitation is often challenging. The emergence and spread of the current strain of AI has created even more challenges for those involved in the rehabilitation of wild birds, as well as those keeping collections of rare bird species.

“Obviously every rehabilitation centre is different and will require its own specific and other biosecurity measures but we hope that this information can be of assistance to other organisations.

“We are delighted to have been able to work closely with veterinary colleagues from BVZS and Scottish SPCA, along with the support and insight from many others to produce this guidance document.”

Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) senior veterinary surgeon Liam Reid said: “Wildlife rehabilitation is a core part of what we do at the Scottish SPCA.

“In recent years, the emergence of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in Scotland has had devastating and far reaching effects on Scotland’s varied avifauna, in particular our internationally important breeding seabirds (such as great skua and northern gannet), waterfowl and birds of prey.

“Veterinary surgeons from the Scottish SPCA have worked alongside colleagues from the RSPCA and BVZS to produce this guidance document in the hope that our collective experience can help other organisations to prepare their own contingency plans and mitigate the varied challenges posed by this disease.”

British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) Council member Elliott Simpson-Brown said: “Avian Influenza is here to stay.

“If we are to safeguard our privilege to be able to work with the incredible array of wildlife we have in the UK and associated ever-evolving disease threats, then it is vital that all sectors of the veterinary industry and representative bodies work proactively and collaboratively to ensure continued safe and sustainable procedures are in place, and this starts with guidance and understanding.”

This new avian influenza guidance for wildlife and rehabilitation centre vets is intended to provide general advice based on the experience of the authors and is not intended to provide definitive advice for other sites and organisations or to replace individual site assessments and veterinary advice.

It is up to individual wildlife and rehabilitation centres to ensure they are following the most up-to-date legislation and guidance and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres should regularly review the latest Defra guidance (or that of the Scottish or Welsh Governments, or DAERA) as this is subject to frequent change.

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