Latest cases show bird flu risk remains – KCC

Birdwatchers in Kent are reminded of the importance of following strict biosecurity rules to limit the spread of avian influenza (AI).

Chickens can roam freely again, but farmers must take steps to reduce the risk of poultry mixing with wild birds

While the risk of transmission to people is low, members of the public are also urged to continue to report, and not touch or pick up, any dead or sick birds they find while enjoying the county’s wide open spaces.

The appeals from Kent County Council (KCC) follow confirmation from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) that the H5NI strain of the disease has been found at premises near Bexhill-on-Sea, Rother, East Sussex, near the Kent border. .

Commonly known as bird flu, AI naturally circulates in wild birds so they can spread the disease to poultry and other domestic birds.

Although regulations requiring poultry and pet birds to be kept indoors – to reduce contact with wild birds – were lifted in May, the risk from wild birds remains. And with more than 101 cases of the H5N1 strain across the country since October, an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) is still in place across Britain.

The rules mean that while birds are allowed to roam outdoors, all bird keepers – whether they have pet birds, a commercial flock or a backyard flock – are legally required to take effective and preventive biosecurity measures. This includes cleaning and disinfecting hard surfaces and fencing ponds or standing water to reduce contact of domestic birds with wild birds.

Mike Hill, Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services, said: ‘While the recent lifting of mandatory housing measures was good news for birdwatchers, recent cases of bird flu, including just over our border in East Sussex, show that it is vital that Kent keepers remain vigilant for signs of disease and maintain high standards of biosecurity.

“The UK Food Safety Agency has reassured that the risk to the health of the general public is very low and the Food Standards Agency assures that properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, can be eaten without danger.

“But if people find swans, geese or ducks or other wild birds that are visibly sick or dead, such as gulls or birds of prey, they should not pick them up and report them instead to the Defra Helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

“This report helps APHA understand how avian influenza is distributed geographically and in different types of birds, so calls matter.”

The highly pathogenic strain of bird flu was detected in two wild swans as part of routine surveillance on Stodmarsh in February.

In the event of an outbreak of bird flu in Kent, KCC Business Standards would work closely with colleagues in contingency planning and APHA to ensure the measures and restrictions in place are followed to protect public and animal health – and enforce the law.

Kent Business Standards Manager Steve Rock said: “Good housekeeping is an essential defense against bird flu and the key to limiting its spread.

“All bird keepers in Kent should continue to follow Defra rules and immediately report any signs of the disease in their flocks to the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.

“People who have more than 50 birds are legally required to register, but anyone who keeps poultry, even as a pet, must register – if they haven’t already – in order to be contacted in the event of an epidemic.”

For the latest bird flu situation and advice for keepers and members of the public visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu

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