Deadly Bird flu could arrive in UK this winter – Public Health England issue egg warning

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The highly pathogenic avian influenza (or avian flu) is causing outbreaks in Russia and Kazakhstan. As winter approaches, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has warned the risk of migratory wild birds infecting domestic poultry will rise.

Poultry farmers and pet bird keepers have been told to take action to improve biosecurity.

It comes after a large number of cases of bird flu were confirmed at a chicken farm in Suffolk when the H5N8 strain was confirmed amongst a flock last December.

All 27,000 birds at the commercial farm were culled in a bid to prevent the spread of the disease.

It was the first outbreak of the disease in the UK since January 2017, when thousands of birds in Lancashire and Lincolnshire were confirmed to have the H5N8 strain.

Public Health England (PHE) has said the risk to public health is very low but the Food Standards Agency warned that poultry products, including eggs, should be thoroughly cooked.

According to the World Health Organisation, H5N1 which is one of the highly pathogenic avian flu’s is deadly to humans and to other mammals which catch the virus from birds.

However, other known strains including H5N8 which is more common in the UK pose a significantly lower risk.

Since the first human case in 1997, H5N1 has killed nearly 60 percent of the people who have been infected, the WHO says.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Chicken farms ‘risk deadlier outbreak than COVID-19’

The NHS advises bird flu is spread by close contact with an infected bird – dead or alive. 

This could include touching infected birds, touching dropping or bedding, and killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking. 

Máire Burnett, Chair, UK Poultry Health & Welfare Group, said: “As migratory birds return to winter in the UK, there is a risk they could bring avian influenza and infect the domestic wild bird population. 

“I urge all poultry and gamebird keepers to ensure they have robust biosecurity measures in place to reduce the risk of disease and protect bird health and welfare.

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“Avian influenza poses a significant threat to the commercial poultry industry and risks huge economic disruption to international trade due to the loss of ‘country freedom’ from avian influenza.”

A joint statement by the four Chief Veterinary Officers in the UK, added: “Avian flu is a constant threat to all poultry, and with winter approaching there will be an increased risk of disease making its way into the UK from migrating birds.

“It is therefore important that all keepers of poultry, including game birds and pet birds, act now to reduce the risk of transmission of avian flu to their flocks.

“Enhanced biosecurity should be maintained at all times, including regularly cleaning and disinfecting the area where you keep birds and separating them from wild birds wherever possible.”

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