Poultry farmers urged to be on high alert for signs of bird flu

Virus highly contagious between birds and can cause death, and so threatens Irish flocks

The department is urging keepers of chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys to apply specific biosecurity measures. File photograph: Chor Sokunthea/Reuters

The department is urging keepers of chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys to apply specific biosecurity measures. File photograph: Chor Sokunthea/Reuters

 

Turkey farmers are among those being asked to be on high alert for signs of bird flu in their flock.

The Department of Agriculture’s warning to all poultry farmers, including those who keep one or two hens in their back garden, comes following the confirmation of the avian influenza H5N8 in wild birds in a number of counties since early November.

The department is urging keepers of chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys to apply specific biosecurity measures.

The virus is highly contagious between birds and can cause serious illness and death, and so threatens Irish flocks. Symptoms include a swollen head, discolouration of neck and throat, loss of appetite, respiratory distress, diarrhoea and fewer eggs laid – although these vary between species of bird.

No human infections with this virus have been reported worldwide and therefore risk to humans is considered to be very low. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

Among the biosecurity measures owners should implement are to allow only essential personnel on to the premises; anyone who comes into contact with the birds must wear suitable PPE, including dedicated wellington boots and disposable overalls and gloves; all footwear should be disinfected before and after being on the premises; anyone who comes into contact with the birds must wash their hands thoroughly before and after; and, where possible anyone in contact with the poultry should refrain from contact with any birds off the premises.

There should be “additional enhanced biosecurity measures … in flocks of 500 birds or more”, said a department spokesman.

“Poultry flock owners should remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their flocks, maintain strict biosecurity measures and report any disease suspicion to their nearest department regional veterinary office.

“Members of the public are advised not to handle sick or dead wild birds and to report sick or dead wild birds to the regional veterinary office or contact the department’s disease hotline on 1850-200456.”

An early warning system is in place with Birdwatch Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the National Association of Regional Game Councils regarding surveillance for signs of disease in wild birds.