New bird flu alert service launched as threat level is raised from low to medium

A Hungarian worker holds an ampule filled with vaccine against the deadly H5N1 virus of bird flu in a plant of Omninvest Vaccine Producing Ltd in Pilisborosjenoe, just northwest of Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, March 14, 2006. The industrial scale production of the vaccine started  for the first time in the world in Hungary on Tuesday.  (AP Photo/MTI, Tamas Kovacs)
A Hungarian worker holds an ampule filled with vaccine against the deadly H5N1 virus of bird flu in a plant of Omninvest Vaccine Producing Ltd in Pilisborosjenoe, just northwest of Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, March 14, 2006. The industrial scale production of the vaccine started for the first time in the world in Hungary on Tuesday. (AP Photo/MTI, Tamas Kovacs)

The authorities in the North have launched a new bird flu text alert service after the threat level from the virus was recently raised from low to medium.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in England has raised the risk level for an incursion of H5N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild birds to ‘MEDIUM’.

The risk for poultry remains ‘LOW’ for introduction of infection onto individual premises, but will depend on fowl farmers’ levels of biosecurity.

Avian influenza (AI), commonly known as bird flu, is a highly contagious viral disease affecting the respiratory, digestive and/or nervous system of many species of birds.

It may also pose a threat to people and other animals in certain circumstances.

In response, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has launched a new text alert service for all bird keepers to receive immediate notifications of disease outbreaks or other important disease information.

This will enable bird keepers to take action to protect their flock at the earliest opportunity.

The Department would encourage all bird keepers to subscribe to this service by simply texting ‘BIRDS’ to 67300.

According to DEFRA over the past month reports of H5N8 HPAI have continued in a number of countries.

Italy has reported seventeen more outbreaks of H5N8 HPAI in Bergamo, Brescia, Ferrara, Sondrio, Vicenza and Cremona.

In its most recent bulletin, DEFRA warns: “The poultry involved included fattening turkeys and layers and seven smallholdings. In all cases, disease

control measures are in place; most introductions are considered to be primary incursions with little secondary spread observed.

“One of the outbreaks was reported in one of the largest layer farms in Italy, with over 850,000 birds to be destroyed.

“Wild birds positive for H5N8 HPAI have been reported in 3 cases (mute swans, Cygnus olor, one in Como and two cases in Verbano).

“Germany has reported a finding in a wild duck (species unknown) near the border with the Netherlands. They have also reported that a virus from a mute swan sampled in September is different from others previously found in that region but shows high similarities to others across Europe.

“New incursions to Europe as a whole remain a continuous risk and the increase in detections in recent days

and weeks of H5N8 support local maintenance of virus and increase in risk as new waterfowl populations move and arrive within Europe.

“Bulgaria has reported two outbreaks of H5N8 HPAI in poultry - one in a commercial duck unit of - 10,000 birds and the other on a backyard farm.”

In terms of the risk to the North, DEFRA adds: “In the UK, the wild bird migration season is well under way which will bring birds from their breeding grounds in Central and North Eurasia to Europe and the UK for wintering.

“The findings of new incursions in wild birds in Central Europe mirrors what was occurring last year although there is a lot of uncertainty around whether we see a similar situation to that of last year.”