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Avian influenza - latest advice

PUBLISHED: 15:22 21 September 2007 | UPDATED: 08:16 28 March 2014

Group of hens

Group of hens

Victoria Roberts looks at some of the latest information for poultry keepers and pet owners on Defra’s website www.defra.gov.uk

Organic and free range poultry

The UK Administrations recognize there is concern that the possible introduction of veterinary requirements to confine poultry (including waterfowl) indoors in response to the threat of, or an outbreak of, avian influenza could result in flocks, and thus eggs and poultry, losing their organic status.

The relevant rules on providing poultry with access to range are set out in Section 8 of Annex I B to Council Regulation 2092/91. The Commission has proposed an amendment to Section 8 to add the following paragraph:

8.4.7. Notwithstanding the provisions laid down in points 8.4.2 and

8.4.5, poultry may be kept indoors where restrictions, including veterinary restrictions, which are taken on the basis of Community law for the purpose of protecting public or animal health, prevent or restrict access of the poultry to open-air runs. Where poultry are kept indoors, they shall permanently have access to sufficient quantities of roughage and suitable material in order to meet the poultry’s ethological needs. The Commission shall examine the application of this paragraph in particular as regards animal welfare requirements by 15 October 2006.

A draft of the Commission Regulation effecting this amendment was approved by the Standing Committee on Organic Farming on March 23 and the Regulation will be published shortly in the Official Journal. This will come into force shortly after. This provides the necessary legal basis for organic poultry to retain organic status when required to be confined to poultry houses by veterinary restrictions imposed to deal with an outbreak of avian influenza.

Pending this amendment coming into force, as stated in Defra’s information note of February 23, if it becomes necessary to urgently require poultry to be kept indoors, poultry and eggs affected will retain their organic status as long as all other provisions of the Compendium are complied with.

Many organic flocks will also have free range status. In the case of free range status, different rules apply. Under arrangements previously announced, in the event of a requirement to house the flock for veterinary reasons, poultry products will retain their free-range status for up to 12 weeks.

• General guidance on preparing for avian influenza can be found in the DEFRA leaflet Separating Flocks From Wild Birds (PB11504) at www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/ diseases/notifiable/disease/ai/pdf/ separating.pdf

Risks to cats and dogs

In current circumstances, the risk to cats and dogs is very low. As a precautionary approach, Defra recommends that if you live within 3km of a premises where avian influenza is confirmed (the protection zone) pet owners should aim to keep their cats indoors and exercise their dogs on a lead. This is for the protection of the animals, however, not for public health purposes. In all other areas, owners should continue as normal and their pets are not at risk.

Defra is urgently seeking further independent, scientific advice on the infection in cats. It’s rare for cats to be infected with avian influenza virus and there are very few confirmed reports of the disease in normal circumstances. There have been no cases in dogs.

However, it is possible for cats that have had direct contact with infected birds or infected bird carcases to be infected with the virus in areas where high numbers of wild birds have died from avian influenza H5N1.

Current knowledge indicates that avian influenza H5N1 infection has never been transmitted to humans from animals other than domestic poultry. Natural infections in carnivores such as cats appear to be self-limiting.
Legal responsibility for the care of animals rests with the owner at all times, and abandoning animals is an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act, punishable by prosecution. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to abandon their cats, dogs, or any other pet because of fears or worries of infection from avian influenza. The welfare of pet animals is seriously compromised when they’re abandoned – they’re at risk from starvation or accident and more vulnerable to disease.

If pet owners are concerned about the health of their animals, they should consult their vet.

Defra is preparing further more detailed guidance to pet owners which may be modified in the light of any further scientific advice, and is in regular contact with animal welfare (RSPCA, Blue Cross, PDSA), conservation (RSPB), veterinary groups (British Veterinary Association) and others to keep this issue under close review.
What to do if you find dead birds

If you find a dead swan, goose or duck, or three or more dead wild, or garden birds together in the same place, this should be reported to Defra, via the Defra Helpline on 08459 33 55 77.

The current Defra helpline opening hours are Monday to Friday 6.00am to 10.00pm and Saturday and Sunday 6.00am to 10.00pm.

They may wish to have the birds examined for signs of specific diseases. They will advise you on what action you should take. If the dead bird is a single, small garden, or wild bird, then you don’t need to call Defra. You should leave it alone, or follow the guidelines below to dispose of it.

People should follow some simple hygiene precautions to minimise the risk of infection. It’s hard for people to catch avian influenza from birds and the following simple steps are also effective against avian influenza.

If you have to move a dead bird:

• Avoid touching the bird with your bare hands.

• if possible, wear disposable protective gloves when picking up and handling. If disposable gloves aren’t available, place the dead bird in a suitable plastic bag, preferably leak-proof. Care should be taken not to contaminate the outside of the bag. Tie the bag and place it in a second plastic bag. Remove gloves by turning them inside out and then place them in the second plastic bag. Tie the bag and dispose of in the normal household refuse bin.

• hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.

• if no disposable gloves are available, a plastic bag can be used as a make-shift glove. When the dead bird has been picked up, the bag can be turned back on itself and tied. It should then be placed in a second plastic bag, tied and disposed of in the normal household waste.
Alternatively, the dead bird can be buried, but not in a plastic bag.

• any clothing that has been in contact with the dead bird should be washed using ordinary washing detergent at the usual temperature for clothing.

• any contaminated indoor surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned with normal household cleaner.
Further information
For ongoing information on avian flu:

Defra helpline: 01224 711 072. www.defra.gov.uk
World Health Organisation: www.who.int


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