Bird Flu: How to spot Avian Influenza and what your next steps should be

In our last article, we explained what bird flu is, the types of strains,  categorisation of low and high pathogenicity and reports of recent outbreaks within the UK. In this article, we will look at recognising signs of bird flu, how to then report it to DEFRA, increased biosecurity measures you should be taking whilst the UK is an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone, and what to do prevent and treat birds with the virus. 

How do I prevent my birds getting bird flu?

You can do this by following DEFRAs Biosecurity advice, which is applicable to anyone that owns birds, from backyard pets and commercial farmers alike:

Chickens should be kept away from contact with wild birds.
Keep chickens away from any contact with wild birds.
  • Reduce any activity in and out of enclosures
  • Disinfect footwear using a DEFRA approved disinfectant each time before entering and exiting animal accommodation 
  • Disinfect vehicles and equipment that have been in contact or near poultry
  • Ensure good housekeeping and regular disinfection of any hard surfaces
  • Ensure  rodent control
  • Remove risk of birds consuming food and water contaminated by wild birds by keeping this separate and avoiding, or cleaning up spills promptly.
  • Avoid housing different poultry species together where possible
  • Ensure birds are separate from wild birds using suitable housing and fencing
  • Ensure strict observation of birds for any signs of disease and report these to your vet or DEFRA

You can also register your birds with DEFRA here, so that if there is an outbreak within your local vicinity, they can contact you. This is a requirement for over 50 birds already, but is also a good idea if you’re a smallholder. 

What are the signs of bird flu?

You may not see any symptoms if your birds catch the Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (LPAI) strain. Bird which do show signs might have mild breathing problems. If you notice this, it’s probably a good idea to call out a vet to check them over.

If your birds are infected with a High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI) strain, you are more than likely to see signs and maybe even mortalities. You should look out for:

Birds with bird flu might lay abnormal eggs, or show decreased egg production.
Birds with bird flu might lay abnormal eggs, or show decreased egg production.
  • swollen head, comb, eyelid, wattle or hocks
  • blue discolouration to neck, throat, wattles, comb or legs
  • lack of appetite and energy
  • respiratory distress such as gaping, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling and nasal discharge
  • diarrhoea
  • decrease in egg production or abnormal looking eggs
  • sudden deaths or increased mortality
  • quietness and depression
  • discoordination, twisted necks and drooping wings

Be sure to remain vigilant for these signs, especially given the current High risk level status of bird flu in the UK, particularly if you are near any confirmed cases. In HPAI infections, typically 90-100% birds will die within 48 hours so it is extremely important to detect bird flu as early as possible to prevent further spread. Be sure to notify DEFRA of any cases as this is a notifiable disease. If unsure of these signs, please consult your vet and be aware that the virus may present differently in different types of poultry. Here are some examples of what these clinical signs might look like.