Avian flu: Poultry owners urged to keep birds indoors

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While there are currently no confirmed cases in Jersey, outbreaks have been detected among both captive and wild birds in England and last Monday it became a legal requirement for all kept birds in the UK to remain indoors until further notice.

States vet Brian Smith said that the advice to local poultry keepers at this time was to move birds into a suitable building, where possible.

‘This could be a shed or outbuilding adapted to house them or a new temporary structure, such as a lean-to or a polytunnel with adequate ventilation,’ he said. ‘Put netting over openings to stop wild birds getting in and remove any hazardous substances. It is your responsibility to ensure your birds’ welfare while indoors and keep them calm and comfortable.’

He added that birds should be checked regularly to ensure they were healthy and had enough food and water, and that their environment should be kept interesting to reduce the risk of feather pecking.

‘The strain currently circulating (H5N8) is not a high risk for humans but is a particular risk for all birds,’ said Mr Smith, who explained that the flu can cause reduced egg production and increased bird mortality. ‘As the disease is introduced by migrating wild birds, any premises with close proximity to ponds or lakes with waterfowl will be a particular risk.’

Morgan Raine, who kept numerous birds in Jersey for several years before her recent move to the UK, said: ‘I think I’m the only one mad enough to have so many chickens and ducks, but during a flu term, I try not to visit anyone else’s poultry, to keep biosecurity up. I’m on the lookout for any sick birds, my own or wild, and report when and where so that the spread can be reduced.

‘I have had some help to be able to convert a shed into a new chicken house with numerous levels for them to nest in and sleep. While the birds are kept in, keeping the beds fresh is of upmost importance, as well as water. Regularly cleaning the pen as well and disinfecting keeps them all fresh and happy. I make sure that they’ve got plenty to do in the pen, so tying up fruit and vegetables or any toys – old jingly toys they quite like.’

Any Islanders who suspect their birds may have the disease should consult their vet immediately. Avian influenza is a notifiable disease and must be reported to the Environment Department. More information can be found online at gov.je.

Fact box:

Avian influenza spreads from bird to bird by direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and faeces. It can also be spread by contaminated feed and water or by dirty vehicles, clothing and footwear.

There are two types of avian influenza: highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is often fatal in birds while low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is usually less serious.

The main signs of HPAI in birds are: swollen head, blue discolouration of neck and throat, loss of appetite, respiratory distress (gaping beak, coughing, sneezing), diarrhoea, fewer eggs laid, increased mortality.

LPAI can cause mild breathing problems, but affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection.

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