Avian influenza (bird flu)

How to spot avian influenza (bird flu), what to do if you suspect it, and measures to prevent it.

Avian influenza (bird flu) mainly affects birds. It can also affect humans and other mammals.

Some strains of avian influenza cause a notifiable disease. If you suspect any strain of avian flu you must tell your nearest Animal and Plant and Health Agency (APHA) office immediately. Failure to do so is an offence.

Poultry keepers should remain vigilant for signs of disease and maintain the highest levels of biosecurity at all times. If you have any concerns, seek prompt advice from your vet. Sign up to our Alerts Service to keep up to date with the latest news.

You must register your poultry if you have flocks of 50 or more birds. Registering your poultry will help us contact you quickly during an outbreak of disease.

Latest situation

Case in Dunfermline, Scotland, January 2016

A case of low severity (H5N1) avian influenza (bird flu) was confirmed by the Scottish authorities on a poultry breeding farm in Dunfermline on 13 January 2016. Restrictions around the affected site were lifted on 11 February 2016. We have published an epidemiological report summarising our investigations into the case.

About avian influenza

How to spot avian influenza

There are 2 types of avian influenza.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is the more serious type. It is often fatal in birds. The main clinical signs of HPAI in birds are:

  • swollen head
  • blue discolouration of neck and throat
  • loss of appetite
  • respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • diarrhoea
  • fewer eggs laid
  • increased mortality

Clinical signs can vary between species of bird and some species may show minimal clinical signs (ducks and geese).

Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is usually less serious. It can cause mild breathing problems, but affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection.

The severity of LPAI depends on the type of bird and whether it has any other illnesses.

How avian influenza is spread

The disease spreads from bird to bird by direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and faeces.

The avian influenza virus changes frequently creating new strains and there is a constant risk that one of the new strains may spread easily among people. But there is no evidence that any recent strain of avian influenza has been able to spread directly between people.

Avian influenza isn’t an airborne disease.

Biosecurity guidance

Anyone who keeps poultry must be vigilant for any signs of disease, and must seek prompt advice from their vet if they have any concerns.

You can help prevent avian flu by maintaining good biosecurity on your premises at all times. Measures include:

  • cleansing and disinfecting protective clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry; if practicable use disposable protective clothing
  • minimising potential contamination from manure, slurry and other products that could carry disease, by reducing movements of people, vehicles or equipment into and from areas where poultry are kept
  • thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting housing at the end of a cycle
  • having disinfectant and cleaning material ready at farm entrances, so essential visitors can disinfect themselves before entering and leaving premises
  • minimising contact between poultry and wild birds

Read our guidance:

Guidance for the public

Public health

Some strains of avian influenza can pass to humans, but this is very rare. It usually requires very close contact between the human and infected birds.

The Food Standards Agency advises that properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

More information on avian influenza in people is available from Public Health England.

If you employ people who work with poultry or work with poultry yourself, you can also read advice from the Health and Safety Executive on protecting workers from avian influenza.

Wild birds

If you find 5 or more wild birds dead in the same location, you should report them to the Defra helpline (Tel: 03459 33 55 77).

Movement controls and licences

No specific movement controls or licences currently apply.

Bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings

We have published guidance on when you need a licence for a bird gathering and how to follow the licence conditions.


You may be entitled to compensation if your poultry are killed under orders from government or APHA in the event of a disease outbreak.

Trade, import and export issues

We summarise any current issues for UK poultry and poultry product exports on our topical issues page. We also have a collection of guidance and forms for importing and exporting live animals or animal products.

Recent cases in England

A case of H7N7 avian flu was confirmed near Preston, Lancashire on 13 July 2015. A low severity case of H7N7 was confirmed on 2 February 2015 in chickens at a farm in Hampshire. A case of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8 was confirmed on 16 November 2014 in ducks on premises in East Yorkshire. Restrictions around the affected sites were lifted on 16 August 2015, 28 February 2015, and 21 December 2014, respectively.

We have published reports about the investigations we carried out. Earlier papers about these cases are available on the National Archives website.

Control strategy

Disease control strategy

Cases of avian influenza, if they occur, are controlled by following the contingency plan for exotic notifiable diseases and the notifiable avian disease control strategy. You can read what happens when a notifiable disease is suspected or confirmed.

Legislation on avian influenza

The legislation covering avian influenza includes:

Enforcement provisions

Avian influenza controls are enforced by local authorities.

Penalties for offences

Breach of controls in place is an offence, with a penalty of up to £5,000 on summary conviction and up to 3 months’ imprisonment per offence.