As a bird owner, any mention of Avian Flu is a cause for concern. This week has seen a fresh announcement from the government regarding measures taken to prevent the spread of the disease to the UK. But how does this affect bird keepers? And is there a risk to humans from the disease?
Bird Flu and people
Bird flu, or avian influenza is a condition that can spread from bird to bird and there is a particularly dangerous strain circulating currently, known as H5N1. It is deadly to most birds as well as humans and other mammals that catch the disease with around 60% of those contracting it since 1997 having died. However, this disease does not easily spread from person to person and there are very few cases of transmission apart from very close contact cases – such as a mother caring for a sick child.
People can contract the disease from close contact with bird of their droppings, though the exact definition of close contact seems a little uncertain. For example, some people in China have inhaled aerosolized materials at live bird markets and claimed to have caught the disease. Another example is people swimming in water contaminated with droppings from infected birds. A third example is handling bird involved in cock fighting. There is no risk of catching the disease from eating fully cooked chicken or eggs
When measures are put in place
If there is a rise in cases, then measures are put in place to help contain the outbreak. These often apply primarily to poutry keepers but can impact bird keepers too.
Keepers of poultry and other captive birds are required to either keep birds indoors or take ‘appropriate steps’ to ensure that they are kept away from wild birds.
Additional steps should be taken with regards to biosecurity measures, the announcement added:
Even when birds are housed a risk of infection remains so this must be coupled with good biosecurity – for example disinfecting clothing and equipment, reducing poultry movement and minimising contact between poultry and wild birds.
When measures are in place, then bird sales and auctions can also be shut down. If you are concerned these events may be happened, you can check out the UK government’s page on Avian Flu for the latest situation.
The advice asks that all bird keepers are vigilant for signs of the disease. For captive birds such as finches, the chance is less than birds such as poultry that have freedom of movement outside. If an aviary is covered or birds are kept in sheds, there is almost no opportunity for them to come into contact with wild birds.
For poultry keepers in particular, measures recommended include cleansing and disinfecting clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact. Efforts should be made in reducing the number of people coming into contact with them as well as with possible contaminants from nature. Housing should be cleaned and disinfectant used at the end of every cycle and fresh disinfectant should be available at entrances and exits.
Clinical signs in birds
According to the announcement, the clinical signs that bird keepers should look for in their birds that may indicate avian flu are:
- Swollen head
- Discolouration of the neck and throat
- Loss of appetite
- Respiratory distress
- Lower number of eggs laid than normal
If a keeper thinks there is any chance their birds may have the condition, they should contact the nearest vet or DEFRA or other public health bodies.
A final measure is that the public are asked to advise if they see any dead wild waterfowl such as ducks, geese and swans or any cluster of five or more of the same bird species dead in the same place.
Specific advice for finch keepers
The most important thing to remember for finch and other pet bird keepers is that the risk of infection will come from wild birds. So while the urge to help an injured wild bird is strong, it should be kept away from your birds. And should you handle a wild bird for any reason, disinfect hands and clothing before going near your own birds.
Finally, avoid wearing shoes into the aviary that you have been out and about with – there is a tiny chance you could carry something back with you.