Avian Influenza – the past 12 months - Veterinary Practice
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Avian Influenza – the past 12 months

Over the past year avian influenza has been diagnosed in the UK on three occasions.

On November 16th 2014, a case of highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza was confirmed on a duck farm in Yorkshire and this was followed a few months later when low pathogenic H7N7 was diagnosed in broiler breeding chickens in Hampshire on February 2nd 2015. The source of infection in the second incident was believed to be indirect contact with infected wild birds as a result of flooding of the poultry housing on January 15th 2015 with water from a neighbouring field, known to be frequented by large numbers of wild birds including gulls, corvids and waterfowl.

More recently a case of highly pathogenic H7N7 avian influenza was confirmed in laying hens at a farm near Preston, Lancashire on July 13th 2015. Tests confirmed that this strain was not linked to the strain found at the Hampshire farm. Investigations suggest that the most likely source of infection was direct or indirect contact with infected wild birds. The UK poultry industry is estimated to be worth £3 billion pounds and the repercussions of an incident of avian influenza could impact not only on businesses within the UK but also on the UK’s ability to trade with other countries. Robust, swift action by imposing a 10km control zone around the infected premises, humanely culling all birds, followed by thorough cleansing and disinfection has been successful in containing the recent incidents.

There remains a risk of further outbreaks as a result of the ongoing presence of avian influenza viruses within the wild bird population and these latest cases should serve as a reminder to the poultry industry of the importance of maintaining the highest levels of biosecurity, remaining vigilant for the signs of disease and reporting any suspicions of disease immediately.

Those keeping birds whether farmed or as pets should review and assess the risk of disease to their birds with their own vet and plan how to isolate free range birds if there is a need to separate them from wild birds. Birds should be fed and watered indoors where possible to reduce mixing between wild and domesticated birds.

Strict biosecurity measures are critical if the risks of this costly disease are to be minimised.

These include:

  • Strictly limiting and controlling human access to poultry flocks.
  • Preventing wild birds from access to poultry flocks, feed and equipment which come into contact with domestic poultry.
  • For free range birds, arranging feeding and water stations so that wild birds are not attracted. Ensuring that any spilled feed that could attract wild birds is removed and preventing poultry from having access to bodies of water used by wild birds. Ponds and other standing water which might attract wildfowl should not be created on poultry farms.
  • Wearing clean overalls and footwear when entering poultry farms: protective clothing and footwear should be removed and either cleansed and disinfected, laundered or disposed of after use.
  • Cleansing and disinfecting all vehicles after each journey to a poultry farm.
  • Having disinfectant and cleaning material ready at farm entrances, so essential visitors can disinfect themselves before entering and leaving premises.
  • Supplying only clean fresh drinking water to birds.
  • Regularly cleaning and maintaining feed bins, hoppers and feeding equipment.
  • Only obtaining feed from a mill or supplier that operates in accordance with relevant Defra and Agricultural Industries Confederation Codes of Practice.

Advice has been published on biosecurity and guidance on avian influenza on the gov.uk website. For further information please visit;



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