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UK regains avian influenza-free status

Defra has said Britain now meets the international requirements to once again declare itself free from avian influenza, which will open trade once again with third countries.

But the disease continues to circulate in wild bird populations across Europe, and chief vet Nigel Gibbens has urged poultry producers to remain vigilant as the risky migratory season begins.

The UK lost its disease-free status, halting trade with a number of important markets for poultrymeat, after the first of a series of H5N8 outbreaks plagued the British Isles in December last year.

In total, 13 cases were confirmed following that initial outbreak and a housing order was imposed on free-range poultry for the first time.

Photo: Mark Bullimore/REX/Shutterstock
Photo: Mark Bullimore/REX/Shutterstock

Commenting on the UK’s regained status, Mr Gibbens said: “Declaring the UK free from avian flu is an important milestone that will help our efforts to re-open export markets. The past nine months have been very challenging for all those who keep poultry, and I would like to thank everyone for their efforts in helping us contain the disease to a handful of premises.

“However, I urge all keepers to be vigilant – there is a constant risk of avian flu from wild birds and this is likely to increase as winter approaches, temperatures fall, and migratory birds arrive in the UK.

“All poultry keepers should take steps to reduce the risk to their birds, such as cleaning footwear, feeding birds indoors, and minimising contact with wild birds. Building these simple actions into routines now can help prepare for any future outbreaks.

H5N8 avian flu was confirmed at commercial premises in Suffolk, Lancashire and Lincolnshire, and in backyard flocks in Northumberland, Lancashire, Norfolk, North Yorkshire and Carmarthenshire. The same strain of the virus was also found in wild birds in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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