North East poultry farmers warned to take extra care after avian flu outbreak

NFU recommends stringent biosecurity measures along with increased focus on cleanliness and keep wild birds away from poultry

NFU Chief Poultry Adviser Gary Ford
NFU Chief Poultry Adviser Gary Ford

North East poultry farmers are being advised to be extra-viligant following the outbreak of avian flu at a duck breeding farm in Yorkshire.

A 10km restriction zone has been put in place around the premises at Nafferton, where the H5 flu strain has been identified. All 6,000 birds at the farm are also being culled.

Public Health England has confirmed the risk to public health is extremely low and although tests are ongoing to determine the exact strain of the disease, Defra has ruled out H5N1, which is infectious for humans.

Investigations are now ongoing to determine whether the outbreak is linked to cases found in Netherlands and Germany.

NFU North East spokeswoman Rachael Gillbanks said: “Defra and the Health Protection Agency are taking the lead in dealing with the outbreak and are working closely with producers in the area. The NFU is also there to support members both inside and outside the restriction zone.

“Within the zone, there are licensing issues that need to be dealt with; you have a situation with poultry businesses where movements can be on a daily basis, so this is something they will have to grapple with.”

While producers outside the zone were not directly affected by the restrictions, Ms Gillbanks added, the NFU was urging everyone to be “extra-vigilant”.

“Strong biosecurity measures are something the poultry industry has really embraced and farms here will already be operating good biosecurity protocols,” she said.

“Clearly, though, given the current situation, we are asking people to redouble their efforts, minimising, for example, the number of people coming on to the premises, cleaning overalls and reducing any possibility of the flock coming into contract with wild birds.

“We’d also recommend that farmers closely monitor their own flocks, looking out for any sign that all is not well. If there are any concerns, they should get in touch with their vets or the HPA.”

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) - the more serious form of the disease - is often fatal in birds and can manifest a number of clinical symptoms such as:

* swollen head;

* blue discolouration of neck and throat;

* loss of appetite;

* respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling;

* diarrhoea;

* fewer eggs laid

Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is usually less serious, and, while it can cause mild breathing problems, affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection.

Some strains of avian influenza can be passed on to humans, but this is rare and usually requires very close contact between the human and infected birds.

The Food Standards Agency advises that properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

NFU chief poultry adviser Gary Ford said: “We understand that there has been an outbreak of bird flu at a Yorkshire duck farm; the first high pathogen case in this country since 2008. We are working very closely with Defra and the Animal and Plant and Health Agency to ensure this outbreak is contained and eradicated.

“Defra has introduced a restriction zone in the area and birds from the farm will be culled. There are tests ongoing into the type of Avian Influenza this is, with results expected in the next few days. At this stage we know it is not H5N1.

“It is important to remember that this is a disease of birds and there are no implications for human health.

“Farmers take their on-farm hygiene and biosecurity extremely seriously and the farm involved in this case has been described by the government’s chief vet as having high standards of biosecurity and is a good farm.”

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