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 Avian influenza Advice (HPAI) H5N1) 

What is Avian Flu?

Avian influenza is a virus that can infect birds, including poultry, pigeons, and wild or migratory birds like ducks. There are two types of the virus: high pathogenicity (HPAI) and low pathogenicity (LPAI), which indicate how severe the disease can be if a bird gets infected.

Am I at risk from Avian Flu ?

Avian flu, is a highly contagious type of influenza that mainly affects birds. However, in rare cases, it can also infect humans. There are many different strains of bird flu viruses, but most of them do not pose any threat to humans. Nevertheless, there are four strains that have caused concern in recent years: H5N1 (since 1997), H7N9 (since 2013), H5N6 (since 2014), and H5N8 (since 2016).

Although H5N1, H7N9, and H5N6 strains do not easily spread from human to human, several people have been infected worldwide, resulting in numerous fatalities. In February 2021, a small number of people in Russia were found to have been infected by H5N8 for the first time.

Although a few cases have been made aware of human cases involving avian flu, there is currently no confirmed deaths in relation to avian flu in the UK.

How do you know if a bird has Avian Flu ?

According to reliable data and information from , Birds infected with the most serious strain of bird flu, called highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), usually show some (or all) of the following signs.

  • sudden death

  • swollen head

  • closed and runny eyes

  • lethargy and depression

  • lying down and unresponsiveness

  • lack of coordination

  • eating less than usual

  • lethargy

  • sudden increase or decrease in water consumption

  • head and body shaking

  • drooping of the wings

  • dragging of legs

  • twisting of the head and neck

  • swelling and blue discolouration of comb and wattles

  • haemorrhages and redness on shanks of the legs and under the skin of the neck

  • breathing difficulties such as gaping (mouth breathing), nasal snicking (coughing sound), sneezing, gurgling or rattling

  • fever or noticeable increase in body temperature

  • discoloured or loose watery droppings

  • stop or significant drop in egg production

Some species such as ducks, geese and swans can carry the avian influenza virus and spread it without showing any signs of illness.

What to do in suspected avian flu cases.

If you suspect a case of suspected bird flu in a wild bird, please do not touch, or pick up the bird. If you are walking your dog, please keep the dog well away from the carcass or sick bird.

In England and Wales, if you find a single bird of prey or owl, 3 or more dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), gulls, or 5 or more dead wild birds of any other species (including gulls) at the same place at the same time, report them to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

I've got several dead birds in my garden.. what should I do ?

You should report large numbers of dead wild birds found at your home.


Can all birds become infected with Avian Flu ?

In theory, yes. So far, at least 70 UK bird species have tested positive for avian flu, including 21 of our 25 regularly breeding seabird species, as well as geese, ducks, swans and raptor species such as Peregrine Falcon, Hen Harrier, Buzzard, White-tailed Eagle and Golden Eagle.

My local wildlife rescue has refused to take a sick bird, why would they do this ?

In short, this is highly likely to be due to a number of safety and ethical reasons.

Avian Influenza is a notifiable disease. Which means any suspected case MUST be reported. (its a criminal offence not to do so). Tragically there have been some cases here in the UK where confirmed cases of bird flu has been found on the sites of rescue centres, which has resulted in all (if not most) animals being culled onsite to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Some rescues have flatly refused to admit birds due to high risk factors, especially those situated by the coastal areas. 

Should a rescue centre have a confirmed case of avian flu, they will be forced to close to ALL rescues for a period as ordered by APHA. This is usually around 12 months.

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