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.
Bird flu is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect any type of bird flu you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. Failure to do so is an offence.
If you keep poultry, whether commercially on a farm, or as pets in your garden, or rearing game birds, you should keep a close watch on them for signs of disease, and maintain good biosecurity at all times. If you have any concerns about the health of your poultry, seek prompt advice from your vet.
Poultry includes chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, pigeon (bred for meat), partridge, quail, guinea fowl and pheasants.
You should register your poultry, even if only kept as pets, so we can contact you during an outbreak. This is a legal requirement if you have 50 or more birds.
As winter approaches there will be an increasing risk from avian influenza in the UK from migrating wild birds (which might infect domestic poultry).
If you keep poultry, even including game birds or as pet birds, you should follow our biosecurity best practice advice. This is especially relevant if your birds are located in a Higher Risk Area (HRA)
Since June 2017, there have been no detections of avian influenza in poultry or kept birds in the UK. The UK has retained its OIE country freedom status since September 2017.
Anyone who finds dead wild birds should report them to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.
Sign up to our Alerts Service to keep up to date with the latest news.
Higher Risk Areas (HRAs)
All areas in Great Britain remain at risk of bird flu in wild birds.
However, in Great Britain we’ve defined a number of areas as ‘Higher Risk Areas’ (HRAs). These are generally areas near where wild birds (and in particular gulls and wild waterfowl) gather, such as lakes, marshes or estuaries.
Check if your premises is within an HRA on our interactive map.
If all or part of your premises is in a Higher Risk Area you should follow biosecurity advice to protect your birds. We consider that you’re in an HRA even if only part of your premises falls within the HRA.
We have defined HRA’s following our experience over the last 2 winters, coupled with the latest scientific and veterinary opinion. This indicates that migratory wild waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans) and gulls pose a continual threat for the introduction of bird flu into premises where poultry, game birds, pet and other captive birds are kept. EU regulations require that member states identify areas of the country where the risk of bird flu is deemed to be highest. We have published more detail of the rationale and approach behind Higher Risk Areas.
If you are planning a new poultry unit you should take into account the risk of HPAI where the unit is planned.
If you keep poultry or other captive birds, you must take action to reduce the risk of disease in your flock by following government advice on biosecurity. This is especially relevant if your birds are located in a Higher Risk Area (HRA).
Good biosecurity improves the overall health and productivity of your flock by helping keep out poultry diseases such as avian influenza and limiting the spread of disease in an outbreak.
This applies just as much if you only have a few birds as pets, or if you have a large commercial flock. An outbreak of bird flu in back garden chickens results in the same restrictions on movement of birds. It has the same effect on farmers and trade in poultry as an outbreak on a commercial farm.
To ensure good biosecurity, all poultry keepers should:
- minimise movement in and out of bird enclosures
- clean footwear before and after visiting birds, using a Defra approved disinfectant at entrances and exits
- clean and disinfect vehicles and equipment that have come into contact with poultry
- keep areas where birds live clean and tidy, and regularly disinfect hard surfaces such as paths and walkways
- humanely control rats and mice
- place birds’ food and water in fully enclosed areas protected from wild birds, and remove any spilled feed regularly
- avoid keeping ducks and geese with other poultry species, where possible
- keep birds separate from wildlife and wild waterfowl by putting suitable fencing around outdoor areas they access
- keep a close watch on birds for any signs of disease and report any very sick birds or unexplained deaths to your vet
Register your birds
We encourage all keepers to register their birds with us so we can contact you quickly if there is a disease outbreak in your area and you need to take action.
If you have more than 50 birds, you are legally required to register your flock within one month of their arrival at your premises. If you have less than 50 birds, including pet birds, you should still register.
Find out how to register your birds.
Report signs of disease
You must keep a close watch on your birds for any signs of disease, and must seek prompt advice from your vet if you have any concerns. If you suspect any type of avian influenza you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. Failure to do so is an offence.
Small flock keepers and pet bird owners
Simple advice for people keeping just a few birds is available in this poster. If you keep poultry, print this and keep it handy, or put a copy on your noticeboard:
If you are a commercial keeper, you should read our detailed information about the biosecurity precautions we recommend you take:
Pigeons or birds of prey
You can exercise, train and race pigeons or fly birds of prey, but you should try to prevent them from making direct contact with wildfowl. Keep a close watch on the health of your birds.
Game birds and shoots
If you’re involved with gamebirds you should read the advice published on the Game Farmers Association website (PDF). You need to maintain good biosecurity at your premises. This advice has been put together by seven leading countryside and shooting organisations (BASC, CA, CLA, GFA, GWCT, NGO and SGA) and endorsed by Defra, the Scottish and Welsh Governments and DAERA in Northern Ireland.
Once game birds have been released they are classified as wild birds. The person who released the game birds is no longer classed as the ‘keeper’ of the birds.
You can continue to feed and water released game birds but you should make reasonable efforts to minimise the chance of other wild birds accessing their feed and water, for example by placing it under cover. You should use commercial feed and fresh or treated water.
There is currently no Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) in place. This is being kept under constant review. With the increased risk of Avian Influenza during the winter, the need for a Prevention Zone may arise.
Further disease control measures will be based on the latest scientific evidence and veterinary advice.
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
- fewer eggs laid
- increased mortality
Clinical signs can vary between species of bird and some species (for example ducks and geese) may show minimal clinical signs.
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.
Anyone who keeps poultry must keep a close watch on them for any signs of disease, and must seek prompt advice from their vet if they have any concerns.
Photos of clinical signs
We’ve published some photos of clinical signs of avian influenza on Flickr.
How avian influenza is spread
The disease spreads from bird to bird by direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and faeces. It can also be spread by contaminated feed and water or by dirty vehicles, clothing and footwear.
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.
Advice for the public
Public Health England advise the risk to public health from the H5N8 and H5N6 strains of bird flu is very low. 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 has said the disease poses no food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.
If you employ people who work with poultry or work with poultry yourself, you can also read Health and Safety Executive advice on protecting workers from avian influenza.
If you find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77).
We then collect some of these birds and test them to help us understand how the disease is distributed geographically and in different types of bird.
We publish a report (updated regularly) on findings of highly pathogenic avian influenza (bird flu) in wild birds in Great Britain.
Movement controls and licences
Where bird flu is confirmed, we put in place restrictions on movements of birds in the area around the infected premises – for highly pathogenic avian influenza they are called Protection Zones and Surveillance Zones.
There are no movement restrictions in place at the moment. Details of older cases are summarised further down this page.
Meat from poultry within a Protection Zone in England
Food business operators have to follow some specific rules for any meat produced from poultry or farmed game birds originating in a Protection Zone. Meat from poultry originating outside the Protection Zone is unaffected. These rules remain in force for any recent Protection Zones. Details are now available on the National Archives website.
Bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings
Bird gatherings can take place across England, subject to identity and health checks and biosecurity measures. Our guidance explains how to follow the general licence conditions for a bird gathering. If you want to hold a market, fair, show, exhibition or other gathering of birds, you should notify your local APHA office at least 7 days in advance of the event.
In the case of an outbreak of avian flu, all markets, fairs, shows, exhibitions or other gatherings of birds (regardless of species) are banned within Protection and Surveillance Zones declared within England.
The collection of wild game birds is not affected by these measures.
You may be entitled to compensation if healthy poultry are killed under orders from government or APHA in the event of a disease outbreak. Owners are not entitled to compensation solely as a result of the requirements of a Prevention Zone or for other consequential losses.
Trade, import and export issues
There is no reason why trade should be affected following the findings of bird flu in wild birds. This is in line with the rules of the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE). There have been no reports of the virus in commercial birds, and the UK has taken swift, precautionary action to help to prevent this happening.
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.
Exports and EU trade
As soon as disease is confirmed, we put in place measures in accordance with Council Directive 2005/94/EC. For highly pathogenic avian influenza, a Protection Zone of 3 km and Surveillance Zone of 10 km are declared around all infected premises containing poultry. No trade is allowed from the affected premises as soon as they are put under restriction. We trace all recent movements from the infected premises.
On 13 September 2017 the Government Chief Vet announced that the UK has met international requirements to declare itself free from avian influenza.
Imports from the EU
You can’t import poultry and poultry products into the UK from within disease control zones imposed around confirmed cases of avian flu within other EU countries.
EU trade relies on strict certification for movement of live poultry, day old chicks and hatching eggs. Products such as poultry meat, table eggs and poultry products are not subject to certification within the EU.
Older cases of avian flu
The H5N6 strain of avian influenza was confirmed in 21 wild birds between January and June 2018. There were no cases in poultry.
A number of cases of avian influenza were confirmed between December 2016 and June 2017. The H5N8 strain of avian influenza was confirmed at farms in Suffolk, Lancashire and Lincolnshire, and in backyard flocks in Lancashire, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Northumberland, and Carmarthenshire. Full details of these cases are now available on the National Archives website. The same strain of the virus was also found in wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales.
We have published two reports setting out our investigations into these cases, covering December 2016 to March 2017, and April to May 2017 - these are known as epidemiological reports.
A case of low severity (H5N1) avian influenza (bird flu) was confirmed by the Scottish authorities on a poultry breeding farm in Dunfermline in January 2016. We published an epidemiological report summarising our investigations into the case.
A case of H7N7 avian flu was confirmed near Preston, Lancashire in July 2015. A low severity case of H7N7 was confirmed in February 2015 in chickens at a farm in Hampshire. A case of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8 was confirmed in November 2014 in ducks on premises in East Yorkshire. We have published reports about the investigations we carried out. Earlier papers about these cases are available on the National Archives website.
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:
- The Avian Influenza and Influenza of Avian Origin in Mammals (England) (No.2) Order 2006
- The Avian Influenza (H5N1 in Poultry) (England) Order 2006
- The Avian Influenza (H5N1 in Wild Birds) (England) Order 2006
- The Avian Influenza (Preventive Measures) (England) Regulations 2006
Avian influenza controls are enforced by local authorities.
Penalties for offences
Breach of controls is an offence, with an unlimited fine on summary conviction and up to 3 months’ imprisonment per offence.