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Friday, 26th November 2021

Public health warning issued as Avian flu confirmed in the North East

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Avian flu could be catastrophic for poultry flocks.

The Department of Public Health HSE North East and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are urging people not to touch sick or dead wild birds, following confirmation of Avian Influenza A (H5N1) in the North East. 

Dr June Fanning (Head of National Disease Control Centre at the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine) said: “The A (H5N1) strain is highly pathogenic to other birds, however there have been no human cases of infection reported in Ireland/Europe.

“While the risk to human health is very low, it is still important that people do not handle sick live wild birds or wild bird carcasses, without taking appropriate precautions, otherwise infection control measures may be necessary for such individuals.  

With an increasing number of cases of wild bird infection seen across the country, all poultry and captive birds must be housed to mitigate the risk of the disease spreading to poultry and captive birds.” 

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Dr Keith Ian Quintyne (Specialist in Public Health Medicine with Department of Public Health, HSE North-East) said: “During the last week there have been 2 confirmed outbreaks of Avian Influenza A (H5N1) in flocks in Monaghan as well as a number of wild birds across the country.

“We know that people are concerned for wild birds, especially ensuring they are fed in these colder months, however it is important that people avoid contact with sick or dead wild birds.  

“The Health Protection Team (HPT) in the Department of Public Health, HSE North East has been undertaking risks assessments and providing appropriate advice to those who have been identified, in keeping with national guidance.” 

“We have seen a number of Avian Influenza cases of A (H5N1) in poultry and captive birds across the country. We are asking people to avoid touching potentially infected wild birds, and if you find a dead wild bird to follow the guidance:

Finding a dead wild bird

There have been a small number of wild birds with Avian Influenza A (H5N1) detected nationally. This has also occurred in other countries in Europe. It is possible during this time that further migratory or wild birds will be found to have died of Avian Influenza. The risk to public health is therefore considered to be very low. 

What should I do if I find a dead wild bird?

It is important to remember that the vast majority of wild bird deaths in the Ireland will not be related to Avian Influenza, based on information from surveillance activities. However, you should follow routine precautions to prevent any other risks to your health, by following the advice below about contact with avian species, bird feathers, and bird waste:

  • do not pick up or touch sick, dying or dead poultry or wild birds, and keep any pets away from them
  • avoid contact with surfaces contaminated with bird faeces
  • avoid untreated bird feathers (such as those found in the environment) and other bird waste
  • maintain good personal hygiene with regular hand washing with soap and use of alcohol-based hand rubs

If you find dead waterfowl (ducks, geese or swans) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey you should report them to: Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (DAFM) at 01-4928026. 

The Department uses every report to help build a fuller understanding of the pattern of Avian Influenza infections in this country. Whilst all reports are followed up there is not always a need to collect the birds for sampling as the Department uses a blend of epidemiological and laboratory analyses to inform this assessment. 

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine may make arrangements to collect and test the bird for Avian Influenza to help understand how any Avian Influenza disease is distributed both geographically and among different bird species. They will also take your details so that you can be contacted later if required. 

What if the dead wild bird tests positive for Avian Influenza?

In the event that the dead wild bird tests positive for avian influenza and you have previously reported direct contact with the wild bird, you may be contacted by the Health Protection Team (HPT) at the Department of Public Health, HSE North East. They will check these details with you as part of a risk assessment, and provide any relevant health advice such as arrangements to check on your health, as a precautionary measure. In some circumstances, you may be offered antiviral medicines to prevent Avian Influenza.” 

Dr Augustine Pereira (Director of Public Health for the North East) said: “We are continuing to work with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to monitor this outbreak of Avian Influenza A (H5N1). It’s really important that we do all we can to protect both humans and birds following the detection of Avian Influenza in samples from a turkey flock in Co. Monaghan. As a consequence, restriction zones are being set up around the area where additional movement control and surveillance measures are put in place. It is most likely that the avian influenza has been brought to the country by migratory birds from mainland Europe.

Poultry owners are asked to look out for signs of disease in their flocks and to report any suspicions to their Regional Veterinary Office.” 

“The advice to members of the public is not to handle sick or dead wild birds and report any sightings of such wild birds to the local Regional Veterinary Office or contact the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The risk of transmission to people is low and there is guidance that you must follow to help keep you safe.” 

Key links:

https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/influenza/avianinfluenza/

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/50ce4-avian-influenza-bird-flu/

https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/zoonotic-influenza/facts/factsheet-h5n1

http://www.who.int/influenza/human_animal_interface/en/

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