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UK declared bird flu-free

It has been more than three months since the last outbreak of avian influenza, but keepers are being warned not to let their guard down as winter approaches.

bird flu

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mark Bullimore/REX/Shutterstock (8383502l) The road leading to Bridge Farm which has been closed during the culling of 23,000 chickens after Avian Influenza was confirmed at the site. Bird flu suspected at Suffolk poultry farm, Redgrave, UK - 15 Feb 2017

The UK has met the international requirements to be called bird flu-free, but the Government’s top vet has urged all poultry keepers to remain vigilant.

Between December 2016 and June 2017, there were 13 cases of H5N8 avian influenza confirmed in UK poultry. Restrictions on movement put in place by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, coupled with nationwide measures to protect captive birds from wild birds, helped to limit the spread of the disease. The last case was confirmed on 2 June, with cleansing and disinfection completed on 14 June and the requisite three months without further infection elapsed.

Winter is coming

However, a statement by chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens warned of the “real and constant threat” of H5N8 avian influenza returning as we approach winter and the risk of migratory wild birds infecting domestic poultry rises.

“Declaring the UK free from avian flu is an important milestone that will help our efforts to re-open export markets,” he said. “The past nine months have been very challenging for all those who keep poultry, and I would like to thank everyone for their efforts in helping us contain the disease to a handful of premises.

“However, I urge all keepers to remain vigilant — there is a constant risk of avian flu from wild birds and this is likely to increase as winter approaches, temperatures fall and migratory birds arrive in the UK.

“All poultry keepers should take steps to reduce the risk to their birds, such as cleaning footwear, feeding birds indoors, and minimising contact with wild birds. Building these simple actions into routines now can help prepare for any future outbreaks,” he added.

Remain vigilant

The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) shared this positive but cautious outlook. A spokesman told Shooting Times: “It is obviously very good news that the UK has regained its avian influenza disease-free status.

“That said, it is beholden upon all those who work with wild birds and captive flocks to remain vigilant for any new sign of bird flu, especially as seasonal bird migration is under way.

“We would also urge all those with captive birds to ensure that all sensible biosecurity measures are being followed. Information on bird flu is available on the Defra website and, should bird flu return to the UK, please keep checking the NGO website for updates geared specifically to those with game birds.”