Feb 5th Bird Flu Update

H5N1 Avian Influenza in Suffolk: Q&A

H5N1 Avian Influenza in Suffolk: Q&A

Have you confirmed H5N1 Avian Influenza?
Yes. Today highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza was confirmed on a poultry farm near Lowestoft in Suffolk. Tests have also confirmed that the virus is the the Asian H5N1 strain, and similar to the virus recently isolated in Hungary.

What was the source of the outbreak?

At this time it has not been possible to determine to source of the outbreak. An epidemiological investigation is currently underway to determine this.

Is this the same virus as the one which has caused the outbreak in the Far East and which has killed people?
The virus has the same geneology as the Asian strain of H5N1. However, H5N1 does not pass easily from birds to people. Where people have caught H5N1 in other countries it is because of close and prolonged contact with infected poultry or poultry products.

What does confirming H5N1 in a poultry farm mean for animal health?
Defra have put in place a 3km Protection Zone and 10 km Surveillance Zone around the infected premises, requiring certain biosecurity measures, the housing of birds, and movement restrictions. A wider Restricted Zone has been put in place which covers east Suffolk and South East Norfolk bounded to the west and the north broadly covered by the A140 and A47 respectively, and is approximately 2090sqkm. It requires the isolation of poultry from wild birds and permits movements only under licence. All bird keepers, throughout the UK should continue their efforts to maintain high levels of biosecurity (please see the Defra website for further biosecurity advice), and develop their plans to bring their birds indoors should it become necessary.

How many birds were affected, and what will happen to the other birds on the infected premises?
A total of 2,617 birds had died by Friday, at which point the farm decided to voluntarily cull the remaining birds in the affected shed for welfare reasons. Approximately 90% were showing signs of disease.

There are 159,000 birds on the infected premises. Arrangements are being made in line with the contingency plan for slaughter and disposal.

What method is being used?

Inert gas killing.

Which gas is being used?
An inert gas mixture will be used to cull the birds. Birds inhale this gas mixture and lose consciousness within approximately 15 seconds, and die within 2-3 minutes. Inhalation of this gas mixture is not aversive (unpleasant) to the birds and culling in this manner enables high standards of welfare to be maintained.

Has slaughter of the birds started?
Yes, slaughter commenced around 17:30 on 3 February and will continue overnight, and be completed in around 36 hours.

What biosecurity measures are in place?
Movement restrictions have been put in place on the affected premises and all movements on and off the premises have been stopped except under license by the veterinary inspector

It has been decided all poultry on the premises will be culled. Culling will begin as soon as possible.

Full biosecurity measures have been put in place and all of the entrances and exits of the premises contain disinfection equipment.

What measures are you taking to protect poultry workers?
The Health Protection Unit (HPA) is fully engaged with human health risk assessments for SVS staff, farm workers and those involved in the control operation. As a precautionary measure those involved in disease control have been offered the appropriate preventive treatment with antiviral drugs (oseltamivir), seasonal flu vaccine and avian influenza personnel protective equipment in line with established protocols.

Were the infected birds imported?
The birds weren’t imported, they came from a linked hatchery (in the UK). An epidemiological investigation is currently underway.


Do I need to house my birds now?
Yes. Within the protection, surveillance and the restricted zone, it is required that all flocks should be housed to separate from wild birds. Elsewhere all bird keepers should feed and water their birds under cover in order to minimise the risk of contact with wild birds and anyone keeping birds outdoors must have a clear plan for housing or separating their birds in the event of an outbreak.

Are there any free range farms in the Restricted Zone?
Yes, there are several. They are also required to house their birds or otherwise isolate them from wild birds.

Will bird shows, fairs, shows and other gatherings still able to go ahead?
No. The general licence for bird gatherings in Great Britain (not NI) has been revoked and therefore all bird gatherings are banned until further notice.

What do I do with my cat / dog?
As a precautionary approach, Defra recommend that if you live within 3km of the area where avian influenza has been confirmed (the protection zone) pet owners should aim to keep their cats indoors and exercise their dogs on a lead. This is for the protection of your animals and is not for public health purposes. In all other areas you should continue as normal and your pets are not at risk.

What do the restricted areas mean in practice – can I walk on footpaths?
Though Ministers have powers to restrict access to premises in protection zones, in the current situation there is no need for people to automatically reduce their visits to the countryside. Even if the disease spreads we expect there to be little need to restrict access to land by closing footpaths or other rights of way, or land to which there is a general right of access.

Has High Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) ever been confirmed in the UK before?

Yes. There have been four outbreaks of HPAI in the UK since 1959:

Birds Affected Location Year Type
Chickens Scotland 1959 (H5N1)
Turkey England 1963 (H7N3)
Turkey England 1979 (H7N7)
Turkey England 1991 (H5N1)

The two outbreaks of high pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza were restricted to a single farm; the 1963 outbreak occurred on two farms with clear epidemiological links; and the 1979 outbreak was limited to three farms with the same owner.

Are you going to do more wild bird surveillance now?

Yes. Within the area around the infected premises there will be raised levels of surveillance. Elsewhere we will continue to pursue our wild bird surveillance programme which is targeted to those areas likely to be at greatest risk.

What should I look out for? Who should I report suspicious bird deaths to?
Targeted surveillance for high pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza and other avian influenza viruses in wild birds is in place throughout the UK and is ongoing. If you find dead wild gulls, waders, ducks, geese or swans and you are within a survey area or unsure whether you are in a surveillance area you may wish to contact the Defra Helpline (08459 33 55 77) and choose the Avian Influenza option

They may wish to have the birds examined for signs of specific diseases. They will advise you on what action you should take.
If the dead bird is a single, small garden, or wild bird then you do not need to call Defra.
If you do have to move a dead bird

  1. Avoid touching the bird with your bare hands
  2. If possible, wear disposable protective gloves when picking up and handling (if disposable gloves are not available (see 7)
  3. Place the dead bird in a suitable plastic bag, preferably leak proof. Care should be taken not to contaminate the outside of the bag
  4. Tie the bag and place it in a second plastic bag
  5. Remove gloves by turning them inside out and then place them in the second plastic bag. Tie the bag and dispose of in the normal household refuse bin.

Hands should then be washed thoroughly with soap and water
If disposable gloves are not available, a plastic bag can be used as a make-shift glove. When the dead bird has been picked up, the bag can be turned back on itself and tied. It should then be placed in a second plastic bag, tied and disposed of in the normal household waste
Alternatively, the dead bird can be buried, but not in a plastic bag

Any clothing that has been in contact with the dead bird should be washed using ordinary washing detergent at the temperature normally used for washing the clothing.
Any contaminated indoor surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned with normal household cleaner.

Can I get AI from handling wild birds?
The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens consider that the risk of transmission of either LPAI or HPAI from wild birds to the general public is small. However, to minimise any risk it is advisable to carry out general hygiene precautions when handling wild birds, such as wearing disposable protective gloves when picking up and handling carcases and washing hands, nails and forearms thoroughly with soap and water after handling the carcase.

What does this mean for human health?
H5N1 does not pass easily from birds to people. People can become infected but rarely are. Where they have caught H5N1 in other countries it is because of close and prolonged contact with infected poultry or poultry products. There is no evidence that H5N1 has acquired the ability to pass easily from person to person.
Is it safe to eat chicken and eggs?

On the basis of current scientific evidence, advice from the Food Standards Agency is that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

EDPC 3rd February