In response to the detection of a number of cases of avian influenza (bird flu) in wild birds, the Chief Veterinary Officers from England, Scotland and Wales have declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across the whole of Great Britain to mitigate the risk of the disease spreading among poultry and captive birds.
It is now a legal requirement for all bird keepers in Great Britain to follow strict biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks.
Keepers with more than 500 birds will need to restrict access for non-essential people on their sites; workers need to change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures; and site vehicles need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly to limit the risk of the disease spreading.
Avian influenza circulates naturally in wild birds and when they migrate to the UK from mainland Europe over the winter they can spread the disease to poultry and other captive birds.
Backyard owners with smaller numbers of poultry including chickens, ducks and geese must also take steps to limit the risk of the disease spreading to their animals.
The UK health agencies advise that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the UK food standards agencies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.
As a precaution, however, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is urging people not to touch any sick or dead wild birds. Angela Cartwright, Consultant in Communicable Disease Control with the UKHSA in the West Midlands. said: “The risk to the public from this strain of avian flu is very low; however it is important that people do not touch any sick or dead birds. As a precaution, anyone who was not wearing appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) while in contact with the droppings or birds in an area where the infection has been confirmed, will require close monitoring and a course of antiviral medication for 10 days from last contact with infected birds.”
The introduction of the AIPZ comes after the disease was detected in captive birds at premises in England, Wales and Scotland. The disease has also been detected in wild birds at multiple sites across Great Britain.
In a joint statement the Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland and Wales said: “Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, you are now legally required to introduce higher biosecurity standards on your farm or small holding. It is in your interests to do so in order to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.
“The introduction of an AIPZ follows a decision to raise the risk level for avian influenza incursion in wild Birds in Great Britain from ‘medium’ to ‘high’. For poultry and captive birds the risk level has been raised from ‘low’ to ‘medium’ at premises where biosecurity is below the required standards, but remains ‘low’ where stringent biosecurity measures are applied.”
The Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) means bird keepers across the country must:
- Keep domestic ducks and geese separate from other poultry;
- Ensure the areas where birds are kept are unattractive to wild birds, for example by netting ponds, and by removing wild bird food sources;
- Feed and water their birds in enclosed areas to discourage wild birds;
- Minimise movement into and out of bird enclosures;
- Cleanse and disinfect footwear and keep areas where birds live clean and tidy;
- Reduce any existing contamination by cleansing and disinfecting concrete areas, and fencing off wet or boggy areas;
- Keep free ranging birds within fenced areas, and ponds, watercourses and permanent standing water must be fenced off (except in specific circumstances, e.g. zoo birds).