Outbreak of avian influenza (bird flu)

17 December 2019

Article: 53/5003

On 10 December 2019, Public Health England (PHE) confirmed an outbreak of low pathogenic avian influenza (H5) at a commercial chicken farm in Mid Suffolk. An investigation is underway to determine the most likely source of infection.

A restricted zone of one kilometre is in place around the infected premises as specified in the declaration applying these restrictions. Within this restricted zone, a variety of different controls are in place to prevent the spread of disease, which include restrictions on the movement of poultry, carcases, eggs, used poultry litter and manure, although poultry keepers can apply for movement licences for some specific movements from the zone. Bird gatherings such as fairs, shows, or exhibitions and the release of game birds are not permitted within the restricted zone.

There are two types of avian influenza, of which highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is the more serious type, as 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, such as ducks and geese, may show minimal clinical signs.

The second type of avian influenza, low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI), is usually less serious. LPAI 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.

Bird flu is a notifiable animal disease. In Scotland, if any type of bird flu is suspected in poultry, it must be reported immediately by calling the local Field Services Office. Failure to do so is an offence.

More information on avian influenza is available on the HPS website.

Source: Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), 11 December 2019