Backyard Poultry at risk from Avian Influenza

January 21, 2020

For those of us that keep chickens and other birds, winter in the UK always puts our birds at a heightened risk of contracting AI due to migrating birds and the ability of the virus to survive for prolonged periods of time in the environment, particularly in low temperatures.

The first outbreak this season of low pathogenic avian flu of the H5 strain was confirmed at a commercial chicken farm in Mid Suffolk on the 10 December. The risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency stated that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers. Thoroughly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

How to recognise Avian Influenza in your poultry

Low Pathogenic AI:

    ·reduced food and water intake


    ·respiratory signs, conjunctivitis, nasal discharge

    ·blue discolouration of the comb and wattle (rare) and

    ·temporary diarrhoea.

    ·in younger birds, the signs are more severe. Laying birds show a reduction in egg production combined with deformed, depigmented, thin-shelled eggs and a reduced fertilisation rate.

    ·Infection rate is high, but the mortality rate is low. Birds recover within 3 weeks without returning to their previous performance level.

High Pathogenic AI:

  • Sudden deaths
  • Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles and hocks
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, comb and legs
  • Gasping for air (difficulty breathing)
  • Coughing, sneezing and/or nasal discharge
  • Stumbling or falling

How to protect your backyard poultry from AI:

Maintain good levels of biosecurity:

  • Maintaining good levels of hygiene and regularly disinfecting hard surfaces;
  • Changing shoes before entering/leaving to avoid transferring faeces in/out of the poultry enclosure;
  • Minimising contact with wildlife by humanely controlling rodents and deterring wild birds. Contact with wild birds can be minimised by placing food and water in an enclosed area such as the coop, and preventing poultry from accessing ponds/standing water frequented by wild bird populations, for example by erecting temporary fencing;
  • Where possible, keeping birds of different poultry species separate (e.g. ducks and geese should be separate from chickens).

What should I do if I suspect avian influenza?

Avian influenza is a notifiable disease. If it is suspected, it must be reported immediately:

In England, contact the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301

If the public find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, they should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77).

Jürgen Theinert BVSc BSc MRCVS

Edgewood Veterinary Group

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