Emergency bird flu measures ordered in Scotland

December 08, 2016

A type of highly pathogenic avian flu, H5N8, has been found in dead wild birds in over a dozen countries across Europe, from Poland to France and has caused the Scottish Government to declare an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone. This requires that all poultry and captive birds be kept indoors, or otherwise kept separate from wild birds, as it seeks to prevent an outbreak of the virus.

Serbia first reported the initial case of H5N8 bird flu, saying that six swans were found dead in the northern part of the country and were infected with the H5N8 bird flu strain. Although no cases have been found in Scotland and the rest of the U.K., the winter bird migration season can heighten the risk of the strain being spread.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that the risk of transmission from birds to humans is "relatively low," and while the H5N8 virus has never been detected in humans, unlike some other strains, human cases of infection with related H5N6 viruses have been detected and reported in China.

The H5N8 strain, however, has circulated the globe since 2014, when it first appeared in China, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom. In late 2014, the strain came to North America, and last year H5N8 viruses were also detected in Taiwan, China, Hungary, and Sweden.

This data is causing the Scottish government to be very cautious, although the article states it’s normal to see these viruses circulating among wild bird populations at this time of year. Within the zone requirements, bird keepers are legally obliged to take all practicable steps to ensure that poultry and other captive birds kept separate from wild birds.

“Looking at the spread of HPAI (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza) across Europe, it is clear that there is a high risk of infection in wild migratory fowl, posing a risk of cross infection into our commercial birds,” Penny Johnston, NFU Scotland's animal health and welfare policy manager said in the article. The decision taken by the Scottish Government is sensible, given the risk, and producers will play their part.”

“NFU Scotland will continue to monitor the situation and update producers of any changes to the risk status and advice, but in the meantime, we urge all poultry keepers to comply with the restriction notice, tighten biosecurity and be aware of the potentially increased risks from wild birds,” she continued.

The government action imposing the zone also comes 11 months after 40,000 birds were culled after an outbreaks of the "very mild" strain of H5N1 bird flu was confirmed on poultry farm, near Dunfermline.

WHO's advice to the public has been that they should avoid contact with any birds, poultry or other animals that are sick or found dead and report them to the relevant authorities. If carcasses have to be handled, people should wear gloves or use an inverted plastic bag to collect the bird, and then wash hands with soap or a suitable disinfectant.

With the holidays right around the corner, the NFUS did not think that farmers would be unable to market their Christmas turkeys as "free-range" after being kept indoors, saying they will have spent the majority of their lives outdoors.

In addition Johnson said “consumers should not be concerned about eating eggs or poultry given the expert advice about food safety and human health.”

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Category: Animal Safety, Food & Beverage, Poultry, Sanitation & Hygiene