UK declared free from avian influenza but chief vet urges ongoing vigilance

The UK’s chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss, has declared that international standards have been met to declare the country free from bird flu. However, she also reiterated calls for all poultry keepers to remain vigilant for signs of the disease as we move into this coming winter.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza continues to circulate in both wild and captive birds in Europe and as winter approaches the risk of migratory wild birds flying to the UK over the colder months will mean that the risks for domestic poultry are likely to rise.

Between November 2020 and March 2021, 26 cases of Avian Influenza were confirmed in kept poultry and wild birds in the UK. In all cases, movement restrictions were put in place to limit the spread of disease and carried out thorough investigations into the source and possible spread of infection.

The Government also introduced UK-wide measures to protect poultry from infection from wild birds, including a requirement to temporarily house birds and a ban on bird gatherings.

“The last year has been very challenging for all those who keep poultry and captive birds, and I would like to thank everyone for their efforts in helping us contain the disease. This is an important milestone that will help our efforts to re-open export markets,” said Middlemiss.

“While we are now free of bird flu in this country there is a constant risk of the disease returning through wild birds and this is likely to increase as winter approaches, temperatures fall, and more migratory birds start arriving in the UK.

“Poultry and captive bird keepers should maintain good biosecurity practises, such as cleaning footwear, feeding birds indoors, and minimising contact with wild birds. Building these simple actions into routines now will go a long way to limiting the risk of future outbreaks.”

Declaring the UK free from Avian Influenza means trade discussions on UK poultry and poultry products can restart with existing and potential new trading partners.

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