bird flu

This winter’s first case of avian flu has been detected in a flock of wild birds in Dorset, Defra has confirmed.

The H5N6 strain of bird flu was detected in 17 wild birds on Friday (12 January), “with more expected in the coming days” Defra said.

However, the strain detected was different to the one that affected people in China last year, while Public Health England said the risk to public health was “very low”. The FSA added that the outbreak did not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

“This is the first time avian flu has been identified in the UK this winter and while the disease does not represent a threat to the public, it is highly infectious and deadly to birds,” said chief vet Nigel Gibbens.

“As the virus has been circulating across Europe, this finding has not come as a surprise,” Gibbens added. “But it is vital that anyone who keeps birds - whether a few in a back garden or thousands on a farm - is vigilant for any signs of disease, reports suspect disease to the Animal and Plant Health Agency and maintains good biosecurity to reduce the risk of their birds becoming infected.”

A local avian influenza prevention zone would be introduced in the area of Dorset where the diseased birds were found, Defra said. However, there were currently no plans to carry out any culls or put movement restrictions in place.

The egg and poultry sectors faced significant challenges last year from a series of avian flu outbreaks across the UK, which ultimately forced many free-range egg suppliers to keep their birds inside for several months. Restrictions were eventually lifted in May.

“While trade remains unaffected and the disease doesn’t represent a threat to the public, it is highly infectious to birds,” said British Poultry Council CEO Richard Griffiths.

“Bird health remains the top priority for poultry meat farmers up and down the country. I would like to urge all commercial and non-commercial producers to remain vigilant for any signs of disease and maintain good biosecurity all year round to avoid any incursion of potential infection.”