Avian Flu Risk Is Increasing Says UFU

Caution required as Avian Influenza Risk Increases Says UFU

Caution required as Avian Influenza Risk Increases Says UFU

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is urging bird keepers to be extra cautious and to heighten biosecurity due to the increasing risk of avian influenza (AI) in Northern Ireland.

UFU policy manager James McCluggage said, “The risk of AI has risen greatly after highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was detected recently in samples of dead black headed gulls at four different locations in NI.

“It is vital that all poultry and backyard keepers heighten and maintain first class standards of biosecurity and practice good farm hygiene at all times. This is the only way to protect their flock and the entire poultry sector from infection.

“If you discover any dead waterfowl or other dead wild birds on your land, particularly gulls or birds of prey, contact the DAERA helpline (0300 200 7840) immediately or your local DAERA regional office.

“Reporting bird carcases to DAERA is critical to disease surveillance and preventing the infection from spreading any further.”

It’s vital that both commercial poultry farmers and backyard keepers follow the advice below in relation to biosecurity.

“Due to the increased risk of AI, extra attention needs to be given to cleaning and disinfecting equipment, clothing and vehicles. It’s hugely important that ponds or standing water is fenced of and wild bird deterrents are reintroduced.

“Access should be limited to essential visitors only on site, and workers need to change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures,” said Mr McCluggage.

The recent cases of AI locally have also created the potential risk of botulism. It is commonly present in decaying organic matter including bird carcases.

“Ruminant livestock farmers also need to be cautious of infected birds. Bird carcases have been known to cause and spread botulism which can be fatal if contracted by cattle or sheep,” said Mr McCluggage.

Cross-border bird flu preparation exercise

Health services in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have led an exercise to enhance cross-border preparation for any possible future incidents of avian influenza (bird flu).

Over 50 participants from disciplines across health, veterinary science, agriculture, laboratory services and the food sector took part in the table-top exercise which was held in Dundalk on 13 June.

Jointly organised by the HSE National Health Protection Service and the Public Health Agency (PHA), participants took part in planning and discussions on optimising cross-border communication, co-ordination and disease control in the case of avian flu in birds and/ or humans.

Dr Joanne McClean, Director of Public Health at the PHA, said: “Public health emergencies don’t recognise borders so it is crucial that we work together on an all-island basis to tackle any threat to human and animal health.

“Planning events such as this are key to having the correct systems in place to act quickly and effectively in reducing the most severe affects on population health should we be faced with these risks in the future.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us all the effectiveness of multi-agency collaborative working in order to protect the public.”

Dr Éamonn O’Moore, National Director of Health Protection at the HSE, said: “Close working relationships with our nearest neighbours in Northern Ireland and indeed with all of the UK are vital as we prepare for emergencies such as avian flu.

“Establishment of shared understanding, shared protocols and approaches will enable rapid and agile joint response to better protect population health across this island.

“Using a ‘One-Health’ approach which places equal importance on measures that address avian influenza virus from animal, human and environmental health perspectives, integrated exercises such as these strengthen our emergency preparedness for future threats.”

Planning and preparation events for health protection take place regularly with further cross-border exercises planned in the coming years.