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UK free from bird flu but producers urged to stay vigilant

Producers were urged to sign up to a free avian influenza workshop as the UK is finally declared free from the disease.
While significant progress has been made by industry and government in dealing with AI outbreaks the workshop will explore any “weak” link factors commonly found in cases of primary introduction of AI into flocks. Photo: Ruud Ploeg
While significant progress has been made by industry and government in dealing with AI outbreaks the workshop will explore any “weak” link factors commonly found in cases of primary introduction of AI into flocks. Photo: Ruud Ploeg

The workshop took place on 13 September and was designed to update attendees on the background to forecasting the future risk of avian influenza outbreaks, covering its limitations and sharing information on what has been learnt from previous AI seasons.

While significant progress has been made by industry and government in dealing with AI outbreaks in recent years, especially in terms of communications, disease management and lack of secondary spread, the workshop explored any ‘weak’ link factors commonly found in cases of primary introduction of AI into flocks. It also considered experience in the UK and in Europe with respect to non-notifiable AI as a cause of significant disease and explored the opportunities and challenges for improved control of notifiable avian disease following Brexit, as well as the new OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health).

Remain vigilant for signs of avian influenza

The event took place following the announcement by UK’s chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss, that international standards have been met to declare the country free from bird flu. However, she reiterated calls for all poultry keepers to remain vigilant for signs of the disease. Highly pathogenic avian influenza continues to circulate in both wild and captive birds in Europe and as winter approaches the risk of migratory wild birds flying to the UK over the coming months will mean that the risks for domestic poultry are likely to rise.

Between November 2020 and March 2021, 26 cases of avian influenza were confirmed in kept poultry and wild birds in the UK. In all cases, movement restrictions were put in place to limit the spread of disease and thorough investigations were carried out into the source and possible infection spread.

Measures

The government also introduced UK-wide measures to protect poultry from infection from wild birds, including a requirement to temporarily house birds and a ban on bird gatherings. “The last year has been very challenging for all those who keep poultry and captive birds and I would like to thank everyone for their efforts in helping us contain the disease. This is an important milestone that will help our efforts to reopen export markets. While we are now free of bird flu in this country there is a constant risk of the disease returning through wild birds and this is likely to increase as winter approaches, temperatures fall and more migratory birds starting arriving in the UK,” she said.