Poultry flock keepers are now required to confine all poultry and captive birds in their possession or under their control in a secure building to which wild birds, or other animals do not have access, the Department of Agriculture has announced.

The control measures come into effect today as the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, has made regulations under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013.

Flock owners are also being urged to apply particular bio-security measures.

The Regulations, entitled Avian Influenza (Precautionary Confinement of Birds) Regulations 2016, provide for precautionary measures, against avian influenza (bird flu).

These measures are being taken against a background where an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N8 was confirmed in a turkey flock near the coast in Lincolnshire, England, last week and also in a dead wild duck in Carmarthenshire, Wales this week.

The H5N8 subtype of avian influenza has been responsible for a number of outbreaks of disease in both wild birds and poultry in several European countries since the end of October.

The Department would also like to remind those involved in arranging bird gatherings that these take place under a general licence the terms of which place responsibilities on organisers of such events, emphasising in particular the need to provide advance notification to the Department and the application of bio-security measures.

Details on advance notification are available on the Departments website.

Although the H5N8 subtype can cause serious disease in poultry and other birds, no human infections with this virus have been reported world-wide and therefore risk to humans is considered to be very low.

Poultry flock owners should remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their flocks, maintain strict biosecurity measures and report any disease suspicion to their nearest Department Veterinary Office, it advises.

An early warning system is in place with Birdwatch Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the National Association of Regional Game Councils with regard to surveillance for signs of disease in wild birds.

The Department continues to closely monitor and assess the disease situation and maintains close contact with our counterparts in Northern Ireland, DAERA, on the matter.

All avian influenza viruses can be transmitted among birds through direct contact with body fluids from infected birds such as droppings or through contaminated feed, water, equipment, and human clothing, according to the Department.

The viruses can also be transmitted from place to place by the movement of live birds, people (especially when shoes and other clothing are contaminated), and contaminated vehicles, equipment, feed, and cages.

Important information for poultry farmers

The Department of Agriculture has provided answers to questions poultry farmers have should they suspect bird flu on their farm:

What would happen there is a suspected case of avian influenza in a poultry flock in Ireland?

The Department has a detailed contingency plan and operations manual in place which sets out the actions to be taken in the event of avian influenza being suspected or indeed confirmed in an Irish poultry flock.

The plan includes a wide range of specific measures to mitigate the risk of the disease spreading to other flocks and to protect the health of personnel working with the affected flock(s). This plan would be implemented in full in the event of avian influenza being suspected and/or confirmed in Ireland.

What would happen to poultry on a premises where avian influenza has been confirmed?

All poultry and captive birds on a premises where avian influenza has been confirmed would be humanely slaughtered in order to prevent the risk of the disease spreading to other birds.

There is scope for the application of limited derogations, for example in the case of endangered species or rare breeds and the use of this derogation would be decided on a case by case basis based on expert knowledge and a risk analysis.

What restrictions if any would be put in place on the movement of birds and other animals in the event of an outbreak of avian influenza in Ireland?

The Department would put in place what is known as a “Restricted Zone” in the area surrounding the infected premises.

The size of this zone would depend on whether the flock involved was infected with LPAI or HPAI.

A variety of disease control measures would be implemented inside the restricted zone including, amongst other things, a prohibition on the movement of poultry, animals and all other materials from poultry farms located in the zone. Further information on the actions that would be taken in the event of an outbreak of avian influenza outbreak are available on the Department’s website.

How long would the restriction zones remain in place?

Restrictions would remain in place for at least 30 days after the preliminary cleaning and disinfection of the infected premises.

I am a poultry farmer, how can I prevent avian influenza from entering my flock?

You find out more about how you can reduce the risk of disease entering your flock by following the biosecurity advice provided by the Department to all poultry farmers here.

In addition you should monitor your flock closely for signs of disease and report any suspicion of disease promptly to your private veterinary practitioner and the Department.

Alternatively the DAFM avian influenza hotline can be contacted on 0761064403.

I am a poultry farmer, what do I do if I suspect AI in my flock?

It is a legal requirement to report a suspicion of AI to the Department of Agriculture. This can be done by contacting your local Deparment office during normal working hours, or by calling the avian influenza hotline on 076 1064403.

Having reported a suspicion on avian influenza you must not allow any birds, people, carcases, or anything else to be moved off the premises until such time as a Veterinary Inspector from the Department has visited your premises and carried out an examination of the birds.