Non-notifiable avian influenza H6N1 confirmed in Northern Ireland

A case of non-notifiable avian influenza H6N1 being has been identified in a broiler breeder farm in County Fermanagh.  

While this is a less serious strain of influenza, which does not require further action by DAERA, Chief Veterinary Officer for Northern Ireland (NI), Dr Robert Huey has urged bird keepers to maintain excellent biosecurity.

Dr Huey said: “A veterinary investigation has concluded and a case of non-notifiable avian influenza has been identified in a commercial farm in County Fermanagh.

“Movement restrictions were placed on the holding as a precautionary measure whilst the veterinary investigation was in progress. The results received today confirm this strain was a non-notifiable avian disease of the subtype H6N1 and restrictions have now been lifted.

“Although this is a non-notifiable strain of the disease, it is a timely reminder to us all that avian influenza is a constant threat to all poultry flocks and how devastating it would be to our poultry industry should a notifiable case be confirmed in Northern Ireland.” 

There is always an increased risk of avian disease incursion in the winter from migrating birds with several confirmed cases in Europe over the last few months.  A case of notifiable Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) of the H5 strain was recently confirmed in a broiler breeder farm in Suffolk in December, while several cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) have also been confirmed in Poland in the last fortnight.

Dr Huey continued: “These recent cases represent warning signals for all poultry keepers that must not be ignored including those keeping game birds and pet birds. All flock keepers regardless of size are urged to act now by maintaining good biosecurity at all times in order to reduce the risk of disease transmission to their flocks.’’ 

“The presence of a notifiable strain of avian influenza in the Northern Ireland flock would have a significant impact on our poultry industry, international trade and the wider economy. It is therefore vitally important that we take the necessary steps to protect our national poultry flock, particularly in these winter months.

“In Northern Ireland the risk to poultry remains low, however, I urge all bird keepers to remain vigilant and to alert DAERA if they suspect any signs of the disease in their flocks. I would also encourage bird keepers to subscribe to the avian influenza text alert service by simply texting: ‘BIRDS’ to 67300”. You will be kept updated with the latest news and will receive immediate notification of any disease outbreak.”

Signs that poultry keepers should look for in their birds include an increased number of deaths, a swollen head, discolouration of the neck and throat, a loss of appetite, respiratory distress, diarrhoea and fewer eggs laid – although clinical signs can vary between species of bird.

UFU deputy president, David Brown said, “We are relieved by the news that the veterinary investigation on a broiler breeder farm in County Fermanagh, has identified a strain of non-notifiable avian influenza. It is a huge relief to our poultry farmers throughout Northern Ireland.

“The case however is a clear reminder of the threat that avian influenza poses to Northern Ireland’s poultry industry and I urge all poultry and backyard keepers, to continue maintaining high standards of biosecurity and to practice good farm hygiene at all times to protect their flock from infection. Bird keepers should subscribe to DAERA’s text alert service to receive immediate notifications should there be a disease outbreak, and if they have any suspicion of infection in their flock I urge them to contact their local divisional veterinary office and report the case to DAERA for investigation immediately.”

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