The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has introduced enhanced biosecurity measures as a precaution against bird flu (avian influenza).

The regulations will require flock keepers to apply particular bio-security measures for poultry and other captive birds, as well as a ban on the assembly of birds.

The department said that the measures are being taken in light of the confirmation of avian influenza H5N8 in wild birds in a number of counties since early November.

The department highlighted that the presence of bird flu in wild birds poses a risk to poultry flocks and the poultry industry. Some regulations will apply to all flocks, regardless of size. Further regulations will apply to flocks of 500 birds or more.

The H5N8 subtype of avian influenza has been responsible for outbreaks of disease in wild birds and poultry in a number of EU member states, as well as the UK, since late October.

There have also been reported cases of positive wild birds in Northern Ireland, where similar measures are also being introduced.

The department said it maintains close contact with its northern counterparts in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in evaluating and managing the risk of avian influenza on the island.

Poultry flock owners are being urged to remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their flocks; maintain strict biosecurity measures; and report any disease suspicion to their nearest department regional veterinary office.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has said that although this subtype of bird flu can cause serious disease in poultry and other birds, no human infections with this virus have been reported world-wide, and the risk to humans is considered to be “very low”.

However, members of the public are advised not to handle sick or dead wild birds and to report sick or dead wild birds to the regional veterinary office.

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