Bird owners are being warned to take precautions and prepare to implement measures to protect flocks following an outbreak of bird flu in South Cumbria and many locations throughout the UK.
The presence of avian influenza (H5N1) was confirmed at a premises in Silecroft, near Millom, over the weekend. The strain present at the site is highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) which is often fatal in birds.
Precautionary measures have been put in place around the affected premises – including a 3km protection zone and a 10km surveillance zone.
Annie Kerr, a vet at Paragon Veterinary Group, in Dalston, said there were a number of precautions bird owners should take in response to the outbreak.
“At the moment the outbreak and the restrictions are in South Cumbria. However, there is quite a strong possibility that there will be further lockdown measures put in place for domestic birds in the coming months,” said Annie.
Annie says anyone who has birds that live outside should begin preparations to keep them inside in an attempt to reduce the risk of further outbreaks as wild birds are a significant source of infection.
“Bird owners should start preparing an inside area with a solid roof away from wild birds. They should minimise any contact with wild birds, for example, if you have bird feeders for wild birds then they should be removed so wild birds aren’t attracted to the area,” she says.
“If you’ve got ducks or geese they are less likely to show signs of disease but may still be infectious.”
Owners need to be vigilant and should continue to follow biosecurity and hygiene measures, such as regular handwashing, thorough washing of any feeding or drinking troughs and disinfecting their boots after going outside.
Birds with the disease may be found dead but can also be lethargic, lie down more than normal and have reduced egg production. If bird owners see this happening they should isolate affected birds from the rest of the flock and inform DEFRA on 03000 200 301.
Although those who keep over 50 birds have to register their flock with the government by law, Annie says anyone who keeps birds should also do so in order to receive instructions and support more quickly.
“If you sell eggs for human consumption then it is also advisable to be registered via the government website,” she says.
This can be done by going to: www.gov.uk/government/publications/poultry-including-game-birds-registration-rules-and-forms
“If you have birds that are always inside, for example, a pet parrot, they are unlikely to have contact with wild birds so they are less at risk,” says Annie.
However, she says owners of birds that are kept inside should still take precautions such as washing their hands and disinfecting footwear to avoid bringing the virus into contact with birds.
People who find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77).
People should not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick wild birds. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu
Cumbria County Council confirmed earlier this week that precautionary measures have been put in place, including a 3km protection zone, a 10km surveillance zone and the humane culling of birds at risk of infection.
The zones restrict access to locations where birds are kept and impose restrictions on the movement of birds. They do not limit access to residents or business owners. Further details on the zones can be found on the government website. The protection and surveillance zones will apply from 19 November until the zone is withdrawn or amended by DEFRA.
Temporary road signs will be put in place along the zone boundaries for awareness.
The response is being led locally by Cumbria County Council, Copeland Borough Council, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Animal and Plant Health Agency and the UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency).
Colin Cox, Director of Public Health for Cumbria County Council, said: “I want to reassure residents that the risk to public health from avian flu is very low.
“However, it is important that people do not touch or pick up any sick or dead birds to avoid spreading the virus, which can affect humans in rare cases.
“If you do find any dead swans, geese or ducks or other dead wild birds while out and about, please report them to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.
“I would also urge bird keepers to be vigilant for any signs of disease and report any suspected cases to their nearest Animal and Plant Health Agency office.”
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