Avian influenza (bird flu) viruses can be classified according to their ability to cause severe disease (pathogenicity) as either highly pathogenic or low pathogenic.
Clinical signs are highly variable but may include swollen heads, a blue colouration of the comb and wattles, dullness, lack of appetite, respiratory distress, diarrhoea, mortality and drop in egg production.
Avian influenza is a notifiable disease and if you suspect it you must report it to your local Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) office.
The risk level for an Avian Influenza incursion in Scotland remains at “medium” for wild birds and “low” for domestic poultry and other captive birds, provided good biosecurity is in place. There are currently no restrictions on bird keepers in Scotland, and bird gatherings are permitted under licence. If you are a bird keeper in England or Wales, the current Avian Influenza Prevention Zones do not prevent you from attending bird gatherings in Scotland.
H5N6 findings in wild birds in England - January 2018
Bird flu has been detected in dead wild birds in Dorset, Warwickshire and Hertfordshire, England, with more cases expected over the coming weeks. The Dorset findings were the first confirmed cases of H5N6 in the UK this winter, and tests have shown it is closely related to the H5N6 strain that has been circulating in wild birds across Europe in recent months.
This is different to the H5N6 strain which affected people in China last year and Health Protection Scotland have advised the risk to public health is very low. Food Standards Scotland have also offered reassurance that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for consumers.
In response to the latest findings, Defra and the Welsh Government have introduced Avian Influenza Prevention Zones covering all of England and Wales which will require poultry keepers to introduce additional biosecurity measures – this does not currently include a requirement for mandatory housing of poultry.
There are no restrictions on Scottish bird keepers at present and the Scottish Government will continue to monitor the situation across the UK and the rest of Europe, carefully. While findings in wild birds are not unexpected for the time of year, it is a timely reminder for all bird keepers to maintain good levels of biosecurity and to remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their flock.
Sign up to the APHA Alerts Service to keep up to date with the latest news. More information on the AI Prevention Zone currently in place in England is available at gov.uk and in their news release. More information on the AI Prevention Zone in Wales can be found on the Welsh Government website.
The last case of Avian Influenza in captive birds in Scotland was Low Pathogenicity H5N1 in Dunfermline, January 2016. APHA have provided an Epidemiological Report for that case.
During winter 2016-17 there were several outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic AI H5N8 across Europe, including 13 cases in domestic birds in England and Wales.
What do I do if I find a dead wild bird?
Wild birds can carry several diseases that are infectious to people, so it is best that you leave any dead birds alone.
If you find a dead bird of prey, gull or wildfowl species, or find five or more birds of any other species in the same location and at the same time, please report these incidents to Defra’s national helpline (email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 03459 335577, Mon-Fri 8am to 6pm).
As part of routine wildlife disease surveillance, official vets will conduct post-mortem examinations on birds reported in this manner. APHA provide a report on weekly findings of HPAI in wild birds in Great Britain.
If you must dispose of a dead bird, you should follow the guidelines below to minimise risk of infection. These simple hygiene precautions are also effective against avian influenza or ‘bird flu’.
- Avoid touching the bird with your bare hands.
- If possible, wear disposable protective gloves when picking up and handling (if disposable gloves are not available, see 7).
- Place the dead bird in a suitable plastic bag, preferably leak proof. Care should be taken not to contaminate the outside of the bag.
- Tie the bag and place it in a second plastic bag.
- Remove gloves by turning them inside out and then place them in the second plastic bag. Tie the bag and dispose of in the normal household refuse bin.
- Hands should then be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
- If disposable gloves are not available, a plastic bag can be used as a make-shift glove. When the dead bird has been picked up, the bag can be turned back on itself and tied. It should then be placed in a second plastic bag, tied and disposed of in the normal household waste.
- Alternatively, the dead bird can be buried, but not in a plastic bag.
- Any clothing that has been in contact with the dead bird should be washed using ordinary washing detergent at the temperature normally used for washing the clothing.
- Any contaminated indoor surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned with normal household cleaner.
Biosecurity means simple procedures or steps you can take to prevent disease. The risk of bird flu in the UK from wild birds never disappears completely so it is essential that bird keepers maintain effective biosecurity all year round. An outbreak of bird flu in a small hobby or backyard flock can have an impact on commercial poultry sector through both the introduction of movement restrictions and temporary loss of exports with other countries.
There are simple actions that can be taken to help reduce the chance of your birds becoming infected. A variety of guidance is available:
Great Britain Poultry Register
There is a legal requirement for all poultry keepers with 50 or more birds to register their premises. The voluntary registration of premises with fewer than 50 birds is encouraged.
For more information on Scotland's egg and poultry sector including inspections, marketing, regulations and application forms, visit the Rural Payments and Services website.
Bird gatherings are currently permitted in Scotland under the general licence. The organiser of the gathering is responsible for ensuring that the conditions of the general licence are complied with, including strict biosecurity requirements. Further information and advice is available in our Gatherings FAQ.
Bird gatherings are subject to prior notification to the Inverness Animal and Plant Health Agency Office. Non-compliance may constitute an offence and a person may be liable to a term not exceeding six months in prison, and/or a £5,000 fine on conviction.
The Notifiable Avian Diseases Control Strategy sets out the disease control measures we would take if Avian Influenza was suspected or confirmed in the UK.
All birds on the infected premises would be culled. Disease control zones would be declared with movement restrictions and controls on birds, meat, eggs, and anything likely to spread disease within the zones.
The Avian Influenza and Influenza of Avian Origin in Mammals (Scotland) Order 2006
The Avian Influenza (Slaughter and Vaccination) (Scotland) Regulations 2006
The Avian Influenza (Preventive Measures) (Scotland) Order 2007
The Avian Influenza (H5N1 in Poultry) (Scotland) Order 2007
The Avian Influenza (H5N1 in Wild Birds) (Scotland) Order 2007