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Avian influenza or ‘bird flu’ in circulation


Avian influenza or ‘bird flu’ is a viral disease that primarily affects poultry and wild fowl and is notifiable to DAFM (SI 130/2016). Currently, a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 is circulating on the island of Ireland. Rebecca Tierney, Teagasc Poultry Advisor, Ballyhaise describes bird flu

Avian influenza or ‘bird flu’ is a viral disease that primarily affects poultry and wild fowl. It is caused by a Type A influenza virus. There are two types of avian influenza virus. These are called low pathogenic (LPAI) and highly pathogenic (HPAI), depending on the severity of the disease that they cause in birds. All types of Avian Influenza, regardless of subtype or pathogenicity, are notifiable to DAFM (SI 130/2016)

Domestic chickens and turkeys are very susceptible to the disease, which is fatal in most infected birds.  However, aquatic fowl (ducks etc.) may have greater resistance to the disease. These aquatic fowl may therefore act as a reservoir for the disease, perpetuating transmission of the virus to other birds.

Currently, a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 is circulating on the island of Ireland. As of November 20th,  49 wild birds have been confirmed, and one commercial flock confirmed.

The droppings of wild birds which are infected with Avian Influenza can contaminate the environment with the infection, which can then spread infection to poultry and captive birds. Colder weather and decreasing daylight levels can extend the survival time of avian influenza viruses in the environment.

The disease poses no food safety risk for consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs are safe to eat.

The risk period for Avian Influenza begins from October onwards. This is due to migratory birds travelling to Western Europe, in large numbers, to overwinter here. On route here, these birds cross flyways with potentially thousands of birds. They are known to carry H5N1, increasing Ireland’s risk of an outbreak.

Signs & Symptoms:

  • Death/high mortalities in a flock
  • Depression/lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • Swelling and blue discolouration of combs, wattles, neck and throat
  • Diarrhoea
  • Reduced egg production or no egg production

If you suspect AI, or have any doubt, contact your veterinary practitioner for advice.

Biosecurity:

Staff & Visitors

It is widely understood that pathogens can be transferred via humans, i.e. humans can carry disease causing agents on their body (hair/skin/under fingernails), clothes and/or shoes. Therefore, it is crucial that the number of people interacting/entering the poultry unit is kept to a minimum.

Equipment and Vehicles

These can be a common source of infection.

Equipment: If at all possible, do not share equipment between houses or sites. Each house should have designated equipment. Colour coordination of equipment will help prevent equipment being transferred between houses.  If equipment is to be shared between houses, it must be thoroughly disinfected before and after each use.

Vehicles: It is important to plan the entry of vehicles to the site at the planning stage. The number of vehicles entering the site should be kept to a minimum.

  • Parking spaces should be provided at the gate where it is safe to do so.
  • Wheel sprays/vehicle disinfection should be provided.
  • The dead lorry should not enter the site, the bins should be brought to the gate. 

Wild Birds

  • Feed and water birds inside or at least under cover
  • Clean up any waste feed in outdoor areas frequently
  • Use netting or wild bird decoys or deterrents to keep wild birds away from poultry areas

Find out more about Teagasc Poultry here

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