Yorkshire Bird Flu Outbreak Prompts Calls for Vigilance on Poultry Farms

UK - Further details on the outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in East Yorkshire have been emerging since the first announcement yesterday, 17 November.
calendar icon 18 November 2014
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In a report to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Nigel Gibbins, recorded that the first indications were observed on 14 November, when the birds showed signs of slightly raised mortality – 338 died – and a gradual but marked drop in egg production.

It is noted that an underlying bacterial or fungal infection is likely to have preceded the infection by avian influenza contributing to presentation of clinical signs.

The farm has approximately 6,000 duck breeders, 60 weeks of age. The birds are housed.

Early information from the epidemiological investigation indicates that the unit routinely applies high standards of biosecurity and had not moved any birds or eggs from the premises in the preceding week.

Sources report the farm to be located in Nafferton in East Yorkshire and that the flock is expected to be euthanised today.

Minister Addressed Parliament

In a statement to Parliament yesterday, 17 November, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Elizabeth Truss, stressed that her department has taken immediate and robust action to control this outbreak and to prevent any potential spread of infection, working together with other agencies - Public Health England. which is responsible for human health, and the Food Standards Agency, which is responsible for food safety.

She confirmed that the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) laboratory at Weybridge had identified the presence of highly pathogenic H5 avian flu from farm samples, but ruled out H5N1, the virus that can cause severe disease in people who are infected through close contact with infected birds. Further tests are being run to identify the exact strain of the disease.

She stressed that the chief medical officer and Public Health England have confirmed that the risk to public health is very low and that the Food Standards Agency advised that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk.

"Protecting animal health is one of the top priorities for my Department and we have extensive and rigorous processes to identify and tackle disease outbreaks," Ms Truss said.

After the test results were confirmed, the national disease control centre was established and the full operational response was initiated, including informing the public and notifying key industry bodies.

At the same time a 10-km restriction zone was imposed around the farm. This zone bans movements of all unlicensed poultry and products within the area. Bird gatherings such as shows and exhibitions are banned and game birds cannot be released. The 6,000 ducks on the farm where the disease has been identified are to be culled.

The Minister added that investigations are ongoing to discover the origin of the outbreak, including whether it is linked to recent cases found in the Netherlands and Germany.

"It is essential that anyone keeping poultry practises good biosecurity, is vigilant for any signs of disease and seeks prompt advice from their vet," Ms Truss stressed.

Reaction from Other Regions

Agriculture Minister for Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, has urged poultry farmers to be vigilant following the outbreak of avian influenza in Yorkshire.

She said: "Since confirmation of the disease in Yorkshire, my staff have been in direct contact with key poultry industry representatives and stakeholders in the north of Ireland to advise them of the situation and to call for increased vigilance. While the situation will be kept under review, I would encourage bird keepers, as a precaution, to revisit their own contingency arrangements for housing birds should that be required."

The Chief Veterinary Officer for the north of Ireland, Robert Huey, advised industry to ensure good biosecurity practices are in place across all poultry producing premises. He also encouraged the industry to remain vigilant and to report any suspect cases of disease to the department of agriculture (DARD).

In Scotland, Rural Affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead confirmed that the Scottish Government is closely monitoring the case of avian influenza in Yorkshire and added: “The Scottish Government is continuing to work closely with our counterparts and delivery partners across the UK and we stand ready to take appropriate action as required.”

All poultry keepers should continue their efforts to maintain high levels of biosecurity and monitor their birds for any signs of disease, urged Scotland’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Sheila Voas.

She added: “As part of routine wildlife disease surveillance post-mortem examinations of birds are undertaken in incidents where five birds are found dead in the same location and at the same time. Members of the public are asked to report any such incidents by calling the Defra national helpline on 08459 33 55 77. Scottish Government advice is not to handle dead wild birds where possible.”

Ireland on Alert

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney T.D. has commented on the recent confirmation of outbreaks of the Highly Pathogenic avian 'flu (HPAI) in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Minister Coveney said: “This is an animal health disease, which normally results in high mortality rates in flocks and its spread is normally controlled by the killing of the affected flocks and the destruction of the carcases. There is no known food safety risk associated with the strain of the disease (H5N8) confirmed in Germany and the Netherlands. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in its recent assessment (November 2014), there have been no human cases of H5N8.”

The likely source of the outbreak of the disease in Europe is wild migratory birds, though this has not been confirmed.

Minister Coveney emphasised the need for on-going vigilance by flock-owners and added: “My Department has a full range of contingency plans in place and, should an outbreak occur measures will be initiated immediately, to prevent the spread of the disease. Avian Influenza is notifiable to the Department and it is a legal requirement to notify any unusual increase in mortalities or any suspicion of the disease to a veterinary practitioner and to the Department.”

Industry Reactions

On hearing of the confirmed outbreak on 17 November, the National Farmers Union's Chief Poultry Adviser, Gary Ford said: "We understand that there has been an outbreak of bird flu at a Yorkshire duck farm; the first high pathogen case in this country since 2008. We are working very closely with Defra and the Animal and Plant and Health Agency to ensure this outbreak is contained and eradicated.”

The British Poultry Council (BPC) has put out a 'Q&A', which identifies the farm affected as belonging to Cherry Valley.

It also explains that the birds on the farm will be culled under the control of the authorities over the next day or so. Once this is complete the farm will be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned.

The protection zone (3km) and surveillance zone (10km) are put in place to control movement of poultry within and out of the area. Additionally within the zone, all poultry should be housed and measures taken to maintain separation from wild birds. Movement of birds, for example to the slaughterhouse, is then carried out under official licence.

Outside of the control zones, production continues as normal, adds the BPC.

Robert Gooch, director of policy with the British Free Range Egg Producers’ Association (BFREPA), urged egg producers to ensure they were maintaining the highest standards of biosecurity to minimise the risk of cross-contamination.

He added: “We are in touch with DEFRA. Members should keep up the highest levels of biosecurity until we hear more from the department.”

Further Reading

Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.
You can visit the Avian Flu page by clicking here.

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