Several isolated incidents of bird flu over the Christmas break have so far not led to any new farm outbreaks.
Since 2,500 birds at turkey farm near Louth in Lincolnshire died or were culled following confirmation of the H5N8 strain of bird flu on 16 December, Defra introduced a temporary suspension on gatherings of some species of birds across England, Scotland and Wales.
The ban on gatherings applies to birds at higher risk of avian flu including chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese, and restricts events such as livestock fairs, auctions and bird shows.
Over the Christmas period, several cases of infection in wild birds were found. In Wexford, Ireland, a wild duck was found on 28 December, alive but unable to fly. Tests confirmed H5N8.
Two wild birds in England, one in Scotland and one in Wales all tested positive for H5N8 in the week leading up to Christmas.
The advice for poultry farmers remains unchanged. Chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said: “Bird keepers should remain alert for any signs of disease, report suspected disease immediately and ensure they are maintaining good biosecurity on their premises. We are urgently looking for any evidence of disease spread associated with this farm to control and eliminate it.”
All avian influenza viruses can be transmitted among birds through direct contact with body fluids from infected birds such as droppings or through contaminated feed, water, equipment, and human clothing. It cannot spread through the air.
The signs that farmers and members of the public should look out for in birds include lethargy, loss of appetite and excessive thirst, swollen head, blue discolouration of combs, wattles, neck and throat. It can also cause respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling, diarrhoea, reduced/no eggs laid.
In a statement, Defra warned that bird flu was likely to remain a threat: “The virus continues to cause outbreaks in Bulgaria, France, Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Hungary. Further afield, Israel has reported more cases in wild birds while South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have reported outbreaks in poultry.
“Given the level of geographic spread across Europe, Asia and west Africa, we should expect this virus to remain an issue and pose a continuing risk to our poultry sector for a considerable time.”