As a commercial farm of nearly half a million birds in Western Russia has tested positive for AI, Countryside has a reminder for poultry keepers - and the public - on how to spot avian influenza, what to do if you suspect it and measures to prevent it.
As we are approaching the autumn migration season, the risk of infection to poultry in the UK will start to increase. Advice from Defra (the government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is for all poultry keepers (regardless of the number of birds per flock) to familiarise themselves with government guidance on good biosecurity and how to report suspicion of disease appropriately.
We've summarised the key information from www.gov.uk for you here:
To ensure good biosecurity, all poultry keepers should:
- minimise movement in and out of bird enclosures
- clean footwear before and after visiting birds, using a Defra approved disinfectant at entrances and exits
- clean and disinfect vehicles and equipment that have come into contact with poultry
- keep areas where birds live clean and tidy, and regularly disinfect hard surfaces such as paths and walkways
- humanely control rats and mice
- place birds’ food and water in fully enclosed areas protected from wild birds, and remove any spilled feed regularly
- keep birds separate from wildlife and wild waterfowl by putting suitable fencing around outdoor areas they access
- keep a close watch on birds for any signs of disease and report any very sick birds or unexplained deaths to your vet
Simple advice for people keeping just a few birds is available in this poster. If you keep poultry, print this and keep it handy, or put a copy on your noticeboard.
How to spot avian influenza
There are 2 types of avian influenza.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is the more serious type. It is often fatal in birds. The main clinical signs of HPAI in birds are:
- swollen head
- blue discolouration of neck and throat
- loss of appetite
- respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
- fewer eggs laid
- increased mortality
Clinical signs can vary between species of bird and some species (for example ducks and geese) may show minimal clinical signs.
Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is usually less serious. It can cause mild breathing problems, but affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection.
The severity of LPAI depends on the type of bird and whether it has any other illnesses.
Anyone who keeps poultry must keep a close watch on them for any signs of disease, and must seek prompt advice from their vet if they have any concerns.
What to do if you find dead wild birds
It's important that members of the public remain vigilant and report via the Defra helpline - 03459 33 55 77 - findings of dead wild birds where there are three or more of wild ducks, wild geese, swans, gulls, or single birds of prey or where there are more than five birds of any other species found dead in the same location.