PARAGON vet Anne Abbs talks about a highly infectious respiratory disease that can kill the vulnerable but can also infect and show no or mild symptoms. Caution is needed with visitors from the near continent as they can be carriers of new, more aggressive strains.

For once though this is not another article about COVID 19 but Avian Influenza (Bird ‘Flu)!

Avian Influenza (AI) has a number of strains and these are defined by markers, usually at two sites know as H and N, on the virus particle. For example, recent cases have been H5N2 and H5N8. Different strains can have differing severity (known as pathogenicity) in poultry, some being of low pathogenicity (LPAI) and others being more aggressive or high pathogenicity (HPAI).

Blood samples are taken at slaughter and screened regularly to monitor for AI levels and occasionally this will reveal LPAI in flocks where previous disease was not identified. Often it produces a small increase in mortality or reduction in egg laying in older birds.

It is a few years since there has been a major problem with HPAI in the country but alert levels have been increasing due to the diagnosis of H5N8, a strain that is normally highly pathogenic, in wild birds in The Netherlands.

The coasts of the UK and large lakes are very attractive to migrating wildfowl because the Gulf Stream keeps them ice free much later into the winter than similar water bodies on the continent meaning that these areas are at higher risk of AI.There is a current HPAI outbreak in Cheshire in a fairly coastal location and Protection and Surveillance zones have been declared. These limit the movements of birds and instigate tight biosecurity measures – like lockdown for chickens!

All poultry owners in Cumbria, but particularly those on the coast and near lakes, should be aware of the APHA guidance to protect their flocks. Even ‘backyard’ poultry owners can do their bit to protect the national flock by trying to feed their birds in a covered area and remove uneaten/spilled food to deter wild birds and keeping ducks and geese separate from other poultry.

HOT NEWS!! As of November 12, due to increasing cases in both domesticated poultry and wild birds, APHA has declared England, Scotland and Wales an Avian Protection Zone. Control measures apply to all poultry whether they are commercial, backyard or pet animals.

The AIPZ means a bird keeper in England (whether they have pet birds, commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock) are required by law to take a range of biosecurity precautions.

Bird gatherings are not permitted within the AIPZ. The general licence for bird gatherings was revoked on November 11 2020. Further advice is available at