Rural and Environment
This migration season, will we see avian flu return?
The importance of biosecurity to your flock
Last winter Scotland was lucky. We had no reported cases of H5N8 avian flu in domestic flocks. The rest of the UK was not so lucky as the disease was confirmed at 13 premises whose flocks ranged in size from nine to 65,000 birds.
With wild birds considered to be the most likely source of last season’s outbreak, it is vital that bird keepers large and small take simple precautionary measures to protect their birds. This is even more important as outbreaks of H5N8 have already been reported in Italy, Germany and Bulgaria. As such, there is every likelihood that the disease will return to the UK this year.
With the migration season well under way, the current UK risk level has been assessed at medium for wild birds, and remains low for kept poultry.
We’ve invited two independent experts who, as members of EPIC, regularly provide the Scottish Government with high quality advice on the infectiousness, prevention and mitigation of avian flu and other diseases in Scotland, to give their view on what the current risk assessment means and what advice they would offer bird keepers in Scotland.
Prof. Rowland Kao – Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science at Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
“Infectious disease risk is a combination of two things – first, how likely is exposure and second, how likely is it to spread amongst domesticated poultry? Exposure results from a combination of many things – in the case of avian influenza, this includes for example, whether or not domesticated birds are kept or allowed outside, whether or not the environmental conditions are good (temperatures and humidity being key factors, with lower values of both aiding survival of virus in the environment).
Crucially, the higher the level of infection in wild birds, the greater the chances of infection being transmitted to poultry.”
Prof. Nick Sparks – Professor of Avian Biology at Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
“For poultry, the greatest risk comes from either infected wild bird faeces being deposited where poultry come into contact with them (eg in the run or on the paddock) or by infected faeces being brought into contact with poultry by people or equipment.
“So, wearing footwear among your poultry that you have recently worn near to where waterfowl may have been (eg walking along the banks of ponds, rivers, walking in the country or nature reserves) will increase the risk to your poultry. Keeping footwear just to wear among your poultry is a very effective way of reducing this risk.
“Taking appropriate precautions reduces the risk that your birds will become infected and die, reduces the risk to other poultry that you may come into contact with and also helps the UK poultry sector to keep on functioning normally. Any outbreak of avian influenza in the UK, no matter how few poultry affected, has implications for trade and can put jobs at risk.”
You can find further information and guidance on avian influenza at www.gov.scot/avianinfluenza