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Bird flu detected in a Northern Ireland commercial flock

Around 30,000 birds on a poultry farm in Northern Ireland have been culled following the detection of bird flu at the premises.

This marks the first time the disease has been confirmed in a commercial flock in the country since 1998. A 3-mile protection zone has been set up around the farm near Clough in County Antrim by the Department of Agriculture. Northern Ireland’s Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) Dr Robert Huey has initiated disease control measures based on clinical signs and the initial results provided by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) as well as the recent detections of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N8 in a number of wild birds across Northern Ireland (NI).

A 3-mile protection zone has been set up around the farm near Clough in County Antrim by the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. Photo: Mark Pasveer
A 3-mile protection zone has been set up around the farm near Clough in County Antrim by the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. Photo: Mark Pasveer

Dr Huey said: “The department was contacted on New Year’s Eve by a Private Veterinary Practitioner (PVP) reporting suspicion of notifiable avian disease at a holding in County Antrim. Since then, we have taken samples and initial results from AFBI suggest that notifiable Avian Influenza (AI) is present. We are now awaiting official confirmation from the National Reference Laboratory to determine pathogenicity and strain of the disease.” He continues: “Given the level of suspicion and the density of the poultry population around the holding, it is vital that as a matter of precaution, we act now and act fast. I have therefore taken the decision to cull the birds as well as introduce temporary control zones around the holding in an effort to protect our poultry industry and stop the spread of the virus.” An epidemiological investigation is underway to determine the likely source of infection and determine the risk of disease spread.

Wild bird cases of HPAI in Northern Ireland

To date there have been 8 positive cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N8 confirmed in wild birds in Northern Ireland (NI) across 5 different locations. There have also been recent detections in wild birds, poultry, and captive birds across Great Britain (GB), in addition to detections in the Republic of Ireland (ROI). An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has been in place across Northern Ireland from 1 December 2020 to further enhance biosecurity measures and a mandatory housing order has been in place since 23 December 2020.

Avian influenza
Avian influenza is an issue for poultry producers worldwide. Here Poultry World tracks the outbreaks and keeps you up to date on the latest information.

Dr Huey added: “The actions taken to date in Northern Ireland have helped to protect our commercial flocks from wild birds. This incursion of suspected notifiable AI, however, reminds us all of how critically important it is to be vigilant and take all necessary steps required to prevent the further spread of AI in Northern Ireland. I urge all bird keepers to critically review their biosecurity measures and remind them that birds are now legally required to be housed or otherwise kept separate from wild birds.” The advice from public health officials is that the risk to public health from these strains of Avian Influenza is very low. The Food Standards Agency advises that Avian Influenza poses a very low food safety risk.