I thought I should write a factual blog concerning bird flu which is currently at higher than normal levels across Great Britain. This is important not only for our wild birds but also for the farmers who breed, raise and produce eggs from captive birds. The recent reduction in availability of eggs is not necessarily due just to bird flu but also the economic decisions of the supermarkets in response to rising costs of egg production.
So Bird Flu, what is it? Why is it occurring? How are the UK government responding? Why it’s important for human health and how are the UK government responding? And what do we need to do if we suspect bird flu in wild or our own captive birds or poultry.
Bird flu or to give it its proper name Avian influenza, refers to a variety of influenza type A viruses found in wild and domesticated birds. The first outbreaks were recorded in China and Hong Kong in 1997, which since then has spread worldwide. Including outbreaks in 2003-2005, 2014-2016 and 2018-2021. In total 410 million birds have died, and since 2003 and 2022 a total of 868 humans have become infected with the current local strain of concern H5N1. Just over half of those cases were fatal. I thought i should write a factual blog concerning bird flu
In the UK, we are now facing our largest outbreak ever. This is a rapid escalation in cases in both commercial farms and in hens and other poultry at home (backyard poultry). This is affecting both animals raised for consumption, such as Chickens, Turkeys and Ducks, but also egg production. And in our wild birds, both native and migratory The virus is being carried by the natural migration of birds from Europe and North America where larger than normal outbreaks and highly pathogenic flu strains are developing.
Disease severity depends on the pathogenicity of the virus. i.e. the ability of the virus to cause the disease and its virulence or severity. Low pathogenic disease (LPA1) in wild birds poultry or other captive birds may show very little clinical signs and indeed Ducks,Geese and Swans may show very little disease at all. But may have mild breathing problems. These signs can indicate bird flu, but the avian influenza virus can only be confirmed through laboratory tests. Bird flu is not an airborne disease but one of close contact with highly pathogenic disease like N5H1 with bodily fluids from eyes, nostrils and mouth and faeces transmitting the virus to other birds.
Our captive birds are more likely to present as rising numbers of sudden death, have swollen heads, blue/purple discoloration in body parts, be fluffed up, have respiratory issues, be dull and inactive with lack of appetite. And with egg laying birds significant egg production drop.
Because Bird flu is considered a notifiable disease (it’s of national importance, a risk to human health and animal welfare); if you have birds that you think may be affected then you are legal obliged to report it to AHPH (Animal and Plant Health Agency) on 03000 200 301, even f the clinical signs are mild. A link below details what happens when you reports a suspected outbreak.
Humans may become infected by close contact with infected birds, but as yet Human to Human transmission is very rare as the flu virus has not managed to successfully develop this characteristic. But there is a possibility that the virus may mutate and become transmissible in the future, which is why trying to control the outbreak is important. Again as with birds the higher pathogenicity the virus, the more severe the clinical signs which are of a respiratory nature.
On 7th November 2022, the UK government DEFRA/APHA imposed an mandatory housing order for all poultry and domesticated birds in order to try to limit the spread of the disease as controlling wild infections is not practicable. This is not in anyway ideal for the normally free range poultry in a commercial setting or backyard poultry. It does not allow them to exhibit their normal behaviours and can certainly cause stress both within a flock and for the owners trying to comply with the housing order.
What about our wilds birds? There is a APHA surveillance program for wild birds, monitoring numbers of deaths and strains of bird flu involved so that a greater understanding of how the infections are circulating, in what type of birds and to enable a greater knowledge of the disease itself.
To report dead wild birds call DEFRA on 03459 33 55 77 Only if you find:
- One or more dead birds of prey
- 3 or more dead gulls or wild waterfowl (Swans, Geese and Ducks
- 5 or more dead birds of any species
You do not need to reports any other found dead wild birds. Bird flu is not a notifiable disease of wild birds
If you report a dead wild bird, DEFRA and AHPA may arrange to collect and test it. You do not need to reports any other found dead wild birds. Bird flu is not a notifiable disease of wild birds
You are encouraged not to touch or pick up a dead or visibly sick wild bird.
Sick or injured birds do not need to be reported to DEFRA or APHA, but may be reported to the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999, They may be able to help. This may include euthanasia and disposing of the bird if appropriate.
Any dead birds found on local authority/public land are the responsibility of the local authority. Any wild birds found dead in your garden which are not collected by DEFRA/APHA for testing, can be disposed of within your domestic waste collection or buried. It is important to note careful handling, including wearing gloves and double bagging of remains is essential if being placed for waste collection. Specific guidelines are available for burial. Further advise on how to deal with dead birds can be found at www.gov.uk