Bird flu – what’s going on?

1st February 2017


Even though most of our clients at Bollington Veterinary Centre keep dogs, cats or rabbits as pets, we do have some with hens in their back gardens - so we thought it would be wise if we wrote a short article on the latest Avian Influenza outbreak in the UK, and discuss how this affects us.


What’s happened so far?

In December last year, the UK’s Chief Vet announced that, due to outbreaks of a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza (called H5N8), DEFRA declared a precautionary ‘prevention zone’.


What does this mean?

The order requires that all poultry and captive birds must be kept indoors to reduce the risk of infection occurring from domesticated birds coming into contact with infected migratory wild birds.

Precautionary prevention zones are sensible and far more desirable than an outbreak and the subsequent indiscriminate destruction of birds that fall within that biohazard zone.


What advice has DEFRA given?

“The Prevention Zone requires all poultry and captive birds, including backyard flocks and other captive birds, to be housed or, where it is not practicable to do so, requires steps to be taken to keep them separate from wild birds. If you keep your birds near your home, consider housing them in alternative accommodation, such as a garden building, a garage or redundant building that could be adapted to house your birds temporarily.”

“Remember to check for, and remove, hazardous and toxic substances such as rat bait, and make sure the birds have access to water and somewhere to perch. You must also practice good biosecurity - for example disinfecting footwear and equipment and washing clothing after contact with birds.”

Victoria Roberts, one of Britain’s leading poultry vets, said: “In its most pragmatic terms, ‘indoors’ means protection from wild bird faeces, so a covered run is better welfare for chickens than being shut in a dark shed. Free range hens will need entertainment if suddenly confined, such as branches for extra perching, vegetables hung up etc. to avoid conflict.”


What is avian influenza?

Avian Influenza, also known as bird flu, is a disease that affects all types of poultry including chickens, ducks and geese.


Signs of Avian influenza

The main clinical signs are:

  • Swollen head – the inflammation will make the head look bigger
  • Discolouration – the tissues of the neck and throat become blue
  • Loss of appetite – they don’t eat as much
  • Respiratory distress – look for coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling and an open beak
  • Diarrhoea – their droppings become much more watery
  • Reduce egg production – you may notice fewer eggs
  • Increased mortality – this strain of avian flu will cause some deaths


How is Avian influenza spread?

Bird flu can be passed from wild birds to poultry, causing birds to fall ill and die. It can be transmitted directly from bird to bird or via the environment, for example in wild bird droppings. It’s for this reason that it’s so important to make sure that if you keep hens or ducks, you keep them protected and isolated from wild birds.


What can you do? - we’ve got 7 suggestions

The aim is to remove or reduce the risk of your flock coming into contact with wild birds and their faeces.

  1. Keep indoors – this is the easiest option if you have a large hen coup, but you do need to look after welfare – ventilation, cleanliness and behaviour.
  2. Keep under cover – permanent indoor housing might not be possible in which case a cover over the run is needed. Small gauge mesh will only stop birds from entering the run and whilst better than nothing at all, a solid cover is better. You could create a temporary outdoor pen using straw bales and a tarpaulin roof with small gaps for light and ventilation.
  3. Stay still – if your birds are housed in moveable coop, don’t be tempted to move the house to fresh ground. This will simply increase the possibility of your flock coming into contact with wild bird faeces.
  4. Minimum access –reduce the risk of you contaminating the area with wild bird faeces you may have come into contact with elsewhere on your property
  5. Cleanliness - use effective disinfectants to keep equipment and footwear clean. At Bollington Veterinary Centre we can find an appropriate disinfectant for you.
  6. Keep feed and water out of reach – make sure that containers are under cover and in the coop.
  7. Monitor closely – check your birds every day and if you have any signs of illness then seek advice. Don’t hesitate to call us if you’re worried.


Contact us if you're worried