Scottish poultry farmers warned over deadly bird flu strain

Poultry farmers are being warned to keep their birds indoors. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Poultry farmers are being warned to keep their birds indoors. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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Poultry farmers are being warned to keep birds indoors as a precaution against a deadly bird flu strain in mainland Europe.

The Scottish Government has declared an avian influenza prevention zone requiring that all poultry and captive birds are kept separate from wild birds.

It comes amid reports of a highly pathogenic strain of H5N8 avian influenza causing high mortality in wild birds in mainland Europe, mostly affecting waterfowl. There have been no cases of this strain detected in the UK.

No cases have yet been identified in the UK and the prevention zone applies to all of Scotland and will remain in place for 30 days. Similar measures have also been declared in England.

In January, about 40,000 birds were culled at a farm near Dunfermline, Fife, after a case of H5N1 avian influenza was identified among chickens.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “We have declared a 30-day prevention zone as a precautionary measure to protect Scotland’s valuable poultry industry, particularly in the weeks before Christmas.

“It is important to stress that there has been no cases of this strain detected in the UK.

“The Scottish Government and its partners continue to monitor the situation in Europe closely and stand ready to respond to any suspicion of disease in Scotland. Any bird keepers who have concerns should immediately seek veterinary advice.”

Food and health experts said the current threat to the public is “very low” and there is no danger in consuming eggs or poultry.

Scotland’s chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas said: “The risk of a highly pathogenic avian influenza incursion into poultry in the UK remains at ‘low, but heightened’, although for wild birds the risk has been raised to ‘medium’.

“It is normal to see these viruses circulating among wild bird populations at this time of year, however the strain seen in Europe appears to be particularly virulent, which is a cause for some concern.

“Keeping birds indoors helps to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus, provided that poultry keepers maintain good biosecurity on their premises and remain vigilant for any signs of disease.

“Consumers should not be concerned about eating eggs or poultry given the expert advice about food safety and human health.”