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.
If you keep poultry, you should keep a close watch on them for signs of disease, and maintain high levels of biosecurity at all times. If you have any concerns about the health of your poultry, 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.
During the autumn of 2016, outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza of subtype H5N8 have been found in poultry and wild birds in several countries across Europe. No cases have been reported or found in the UK. We are monitoring the situation closely.
We have raised to ‘medium’ our view of how likely it is that avian influenza (bird flu) of the H5N8 strain may reach the UK in wild birds. If you keep poultry, you should continue to maintain high standards of biosecurity at all times.
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
- 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.
If you keep poultry you must keep a close watch for any signs of disease. If you have any concerns about the health of your poultry, you must quickly seek advice from your vet.
You can help prevent avian flu through good biosecurity. At all times you should:
- clean and disinfect protective clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry – use disposable protective clothing where possible
- reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry are kept – this will keep to a minimum the risk of contamination from manure, slurry and other products that could carry disease
- thoroughly clean and disinfect the poultry houses at the end of a cycle
- keep fresh disinfectant (at the right concentration) and cleaning materials ready wherever people should use it, such as farm entrances and before entering poultry housing or enclosures
- minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and wild birds
Read our advice:
PDF, 373KB, 16 pages
Advice for the public
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.
If you find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or gulls, or 5 or more dead wild birds of other species in the same location, you should report them to the Defra helpline (Tel: 03459 33 55 77).
Movement controls and licences
There aren’t any specific movement controls or licences at the moment.
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.
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.
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.
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 a penalty of up to £5,000 on summary conviction and up to 3 months’ imprisonment per offence.
Published: 26 August 2014
Updated: 29 November 2016
- Updated version of advice document "Biosecurity and preventing disease in captive birds" added - includes new information about the Animal and Plant Health Agency “testing to exclude” scheme, and updated advice on welfare surveillance.
- Updated the guidance on what to do if you find dead wild birds.
- Latest situation, risk of disease, and biosecurity advice updated.
- Link added to epidemiological report into the Dunfermline case; wider editorial review following lifting of all restrictions in recent cases in England.
- Updated to reflect the lifting of restrictions on the case in Scotland.
- Updated following confirmation by the Scottish authorities of a case of low severity (H5N1) avian influenza (bird flu) on a poultry breeding farm in Dunfermline.
- Updated to reflect suspected case in Scotland, 10 January 2016.
- Updated following lifting of restrictions in Lancashire.
- Additional general licence now available - spreading or movement of used poultry litter, manure and slurry from premises in the Surveillance Zone EXD353.
- Updated declaration and licences following ending of the Protection Zone at 00:01 on 7 August.
- Minor technical updates to general licences EXD247, EXD293, EXD339, EXD346, EXD341
- Added new general licence for movement of mammal carcases from premises in the Protection Zone.
- Edited the details of the specific movement licences which are currently available.
- 3 new general licences for movements affected by the PZ or SZ have been published.
- Updated to note that culling of birds at the affected premises has now been completed.
- We have reviewed and slightly re-organised some information to make it easier to find current details.
- Added details of a specific licence for the movement of hatching eggs from the Surveillance Zone to a designated premises for scientific, diagnostic, pharmaceutical purposes.
- Added information about a specific licence available for the movement of hatching eggs from the Surveillance Zone.
- Updated version of the general licence - movement of mammals from or to premises in the Protection or Surveillance Zones.
- Added guidance and licences for Food Business Operators.
- Updates to information about movement controls and licences, and trade issues, and wider editorial reviews.
- Updated following confirmation of a case of H7N7 avian flu in Lancashire.
- Added information in the movement licences section about extra general and specific licences.
- New information about general and specific movement licences has been added.
- Updates to movement controls and further editorial reviews and changes.
- Ongoing process of editorial review and further detailed updates.
- Updated to reflect a case in Lancashire, July 2015.
- Added link to the reports which summarise the investigations carried out into the bird flu outbreaks in Yorkshire and Hampshire in 2014 and 2015.
- Edited to cover lifting of the restriction zone in Hampshire.
- Updated to reflect that culling has now been completed.
- Updated to reflect the start of culling at the farm.
- Minor editorial changes throughout this guidance
- Updated in the light of the low severity avian flu case confirmed in Hampshire.
- Updated to reflect the lifting of the surveillance zone on 21 December 2014.
- Updated to reflect the protection zone now being lifted but surveillance zone restrictions remain in force.
- Added general licence for the movement of horses (other than in vehicles) to or from premises in the PZ and SZ where poultry or other captive birds are kept.
- Updated general licence for the movement of mammals from or onto premises in the Surveillance Zone or Protection Zone where poultry or other captive birds are kept (EXD315).
- Added general licences on mammals from bird premises in PZ/SZ, and salmonella samples for testing.
- Added guidance for the conduct of bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings
- Published amendment to the general licence on bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings.
- Replaced Movement of table eggs within or out of a PZ or SZ - general licence (EXD317) - a minor error has been corrected.
- Published general licence for the movement of table eggs within or out of a Protection or Surveillance Zone.
- General licence added on bird gatherings.
- Added new general licence for the movement of mammal and poultry carcases from premises in the Protection Zone.
- Published general licence for the removal of the special meat mark applied to certain poultry meat originating in a Protection Zone.
- Added information about specific movement licence for the movement of used poultry manure, litter or slurry.
- Published general movement licence for the movement of eggs from a premises in the Protection or Surveillance Zone to a designated egg packing centre.
- New guidance published "Wild birds: biosecurity measures" in the biosecurity guidance section
- Added general licence for the movement of poultry meat from poultry originating in a Protection Zone or originating from an area that subsequently becomes a Protection Zone.
- Added guidance for Food Business Operators on the control measures relating to poultry meat and farmed game birds.
- Added information about designation of slaughterhouses to accept birds from the restricted zones, under the 'Licences' heading.
- Guidance is now available on how to apply for a movement licence: see the 'Licences' heading.
- Updated to reflect the end of the cull.
- Updated guidance on restrictions in place in Protection Zone and Surveillance Zone.
- Updated biosecurity guidance to include specific precautions regarding wild birds.
- Minor updates.
- Updated because the disease strain has been identified.
- Added link to interactive map.
- Updated with current guidance.
- Added link to the Public Health England news story
- Linked to latest press release.
- Declaration added in relation to 16 November 2014 case in Yorkshire.
- AHVLA documents have been re-assigned to the new Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
- AHVLA documents have been re-assigned to the new Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
- First published.