Grave warning from top vet as UK faces 'biggest ever' bird flu outbreak

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The UK's top vet has warned bird keepers not to be complacent as the country faces its 'biggest ever' avian flu outbreak.

More than 60 cases of bird flu have been confirmed across the country since the start of November, with outbreaks reported on properties in Preesall, Kirkham, and Salwick near Preston.

Nearly 30 per cent of the total swan population in Stanley Park, Blackpool, is believed to have been wiped out by the disease, with numbers falling from 68 in early November to 48 earlier this month.

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READ: Four more swans die in Stanley Park as lake remains closed off due to bird fluChief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss, who is the head of Government vet services, said: “We have taken swift action to limit the spread of the disease including introducing housing measures. However we are seeing a growing number of bird flu cases both on commercial farms and in backyard birds right across the country."

Poultry owners must follow strict rules - or risk being finedPoultry owners must follow strict rules - or risk being fined
Poultry owners must follow strict rules - or risk being fined

New housing measures to help mitigate the spread of disease have been introduced by the Government, ordering bird owners to keep their animals indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures.

This, they said, is to prevent chickens, ducks, geese and other domestic birds from mingling with potentially infected wild birds migrating to the UK from mainland Europe.

People have been instructed to wash their hands and change, or clean and disinfect, their shoes before and after going into bird enclosures to reduce the risk of the disease being carried on their clothes.

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Ms Middlemiss said: “Many poultry keepers have excellent biosecurity standards but the number of cases we are seeing suggests that not enough is being done to keep bird flu out. Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands you must take action now to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.

“Implementing scrupulous biosecurity has never been more critical. You must regularly clean and disinfect your footwear and clothes before entering enclosures, stop your birds mixing with any wild birds and only allow visitors that are strictly necessary. It is your actions that will help keep your birds safe.”

Poultry keepers must do the following - or risk a fine:

- house or net all poultry and captive birds to keep them separate from wild birds;

- cleanse and disinfect clothing, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds – if practical, use disposable protective clothing;

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- where possible change their footwear before entering sheds housing poultry and captive birds. If not, then ensure they are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected;

- reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry and captive birds are kept, to minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products, and use effective vermin control;

- thoroughly cleanse and disinfect housing on a continuous basis;

- keep fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all farm and poultry housing entry and exit points; and

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- minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and captive birds and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water is not accessible to wild birds.

Poultry and captive bird keepers must be vigilant for any signs of disease in their birds and any wild birds, and seek prompt advice from their vet if they have any concerns.