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Avian influenza (bird flu) FAQs

What is avian infuenza or bird flu?

Avian influenza (bird flu) is a highly infectious viral disease affecting the respiratory, digestive and / or nervous system of many species of birds. It is one of the most important poultry diseases.

Avian flu is not airborne, except over very short distances by aerosol. It is spread by movement of infected birds or contact with respiratory secretions and in particular faeces, either directly or through contaminated objects, clothes and vehicles.

For more information about avian influenza and biosecurity, we recommend visiting the government's bird flu information page.

What should I do if I see a dead bird?

You should not touch or pick up any dead or unwell birds which you find. You should report dead wild birds and waterfowl to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77).

Is avian flu a risk to people?

Humans are usually infected through close contact with infected birds, bodily fluid droplets such as those generated during defeathering processes, or other contaminated material. Birds shed influenza virus in their faeces and therefore contact with bird droppings is also a possible transmission route.

Is avian flu a risk to my dog/cat/other pets?

It is rare for cats to be infected with the bird flu virus. In the event of an outbreak of bird flu, pet owners in the immediate area might be asked to walk their dogs on a lead and keep their cats indoors. This would be in the interests of your pet’s health and is a precautionary measure only.

I keep pet birds / poultry – what should I do to protect them?

Keep free-ranging birds in fenced areas to minimise contact with wild birds, neighbouring poultry or captive birds. Inspect outdoor areas, removing wild bird contaminants like faeces, feathers and wild bird carcases.Fence off or put netting over areas of standing water or ponds.

What are the symptoms of avian flu?

Typically this form of the disease presents suddenly, often with very high mortality, with affected birds developing swollen heads, a blue colouration of the comb and wattles, dullness, lack of appetite, respiratory distress, diarrhoea and significant drop in egg production

Can avian flu enter the food chain?

Avian flu virus is killed by heat and common disinfectants. Heat treatment such as cooking will destroy the virus.

What should I do if I think my birds have contracted avian flu?

Contact the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.

Are eggs purchased from birds within the exclusion zone harmful?

There is a very low risk to humans from eating eggs which may have been laid by poultry in the exclusion zone but as a precaution only we would advise you not to eat them.