The Government’s CVO Nigel Gibbens has ordered all poultry in England to be kept indoors for 30 days following confirmation of a highly infectious strain of avian flu circulating in Europe.

Although Defra has increased its surveillance for the H5N8 strain of bird flu, it has not been detected on British farms.

Prof Gibbens put the prevention zone in place on 7 December, meaning poultry and captive bird keepers must ensure their stock is kept indoors or take action to keep them separate from their wild counterparts.

H5N8 confirmed in EU

The enhanced biosecurity measurements have been enforced in a bid to protect against a highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N8), which has been confirmed in a number of European countries.

Clinical signs include a swollen head, discolouration of neck and throat, loss of appetite, respiratory distress, diarrhoea and fewer eggs, although these vary between species.

To date, H5N8 has been identified in dead wild birds in Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

The outbreaks have affected a number of species, including tufted ducks (Aythya fuligula), common pochard (Aythya ferina), gull species, wild geese, wild swans and various other wild waterfowl and raptors.

No cases yet in UK

Prof Gibbens said: “While no cases of H5N8 avian flu have been found in the UK and [Public Health England] advises the public health threat is low, we are closely monitoring the situation across Europe and have scaled up surveillance in response to the heightened risk.

“As a precaution, and to allow time for poultry and captive bird keepers to put in place appropriate biosecurity measures, we have declared a 30-day prevention zone to reduce the risk of infection from wild birds.

“Even when birds are housed, a risk of infection remains, so this must be coupled with good biosecurity.”

For example, disinfecting clothing and equipment, reducing poultry movement and minimising contact between poultry and wild birds, he explained.

Be vigilant

Defra is encouraging keepers to be vigilant for any signs of disease in their own or wild birds and recommend they seek veterinary advice if concerned.

For poultry keepers in areas where avian influenza cannot be ruled out but is not strongly suspected, the government body suggests speaking to their veterinarian about the possibility of using the APHA “testing for exclusion” regime.

This involves submitting samples to APHA’s National Reference Laboratory where they can be tested to help detect notifiable avian diseases at the earliest opportunity.

A 30-day prevention zone has also been introduced in Wales by environment and rural affairs secretary Lesley Griffiths.

Anyone who finds dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks,) gulls or five or more dead wild birds of other species in the same location is asked to report it to Defra on 03459 335577.

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