Chicken farms
LONDON – The United Kingdom has met international requirements to officially declare the country free from H5N8 avian influenza, the Dept. for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) announced Sept. 13.

To achieve AI-free status, World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) rules require three months to elapse from the implementation of measures to prevent the spread of disease or cleansing and disinfection of the last infected premises before a country can be declared disease-free. Defra said the last case of AI in the UK was confirmed on June 2, and cleansing and disinfection completed on June 14, 2017.

Tests confirmed 13 cases of avian influenza in kept poultry between December 2016 and June 2017. The Animal and Plant Health Agency implemented movement restrictions to limit the spread of disease and investigated the source and possible spread of infection. The government also introduced UK-wide measures to protect poultry from infection from wild birds such as temporarily housing birds and banning bird gatherings.

Declaring the UK free from H5N8 means trade discussions on UK poultry and poultry products can resume with existing and potential new trading partners. However, Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens urged poultry producers to remain vigilant for signs of disease as winter approaches. The disease continues to circulate throughout Europe, and risk of wild birds infecting domestic flocks will rise as winter approaches.

“Declaring the UK free from avian flu is an important milestone that will help our efforts to re-open export markets,” Gibbens said in a statement. “The past nine months have been very challenging for all those who keep poultry, and I would like to thank everyone for their efforts in helping us contain the disease to a handful of premises.

“However, I urge all keepers to be vigilant — there is a constant risk of avian flu from wild birds and this is likely to increase as winter approaches, temperatures fall, and migratory birds arrive in the UK.”

Gibbens added that all poultry producers should take steps to reduce the risk of infection to their birds. Preventive steps include cleaning footwear, feeding birds indoors and minimizing contact with wild birds.

Investigators confirmed H5N8 avian influenza at commercial premises in Suffolk, Lancashire and Lincolnshire, and in backyard flocks in Northumberland, Lancashire, Norfolk, North Yorkshire and Carmarthenshire. The same strain of the virus also was found in wild birds in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.