AVIAN influenza cases are far lower this autumn than last, but the virus remains a focus for both the poultry sector and government departments tasked with monitoring and its control.

The UK’s chief vet, Christine Middlemiss, said that vigilance and high biosecurity standards would continue to be required on poultry farms as the winter progressed.

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Speaking at the Egg and Poultry Industry Conference, Ms Middlemiss said the official risk level from wild birds had been lowered from high to medium.

While that may seem counterintuitive given the time of year, she said it was a response based on detections of the virus.

Case numbers

Between 24 October and 7 November 2022 HPAI H5N1 was detected in 112 wild birds in 47 separate locations in Great Britain.

Defra’s latest assessment of wild bird findings between 10 October and 1 November 2023 suggests there were seven ‘found dead’ wild bird events across the UK.

In terms of farm outbreaks in this avian influenza ‘season’ (from 1 October) there has been one on an Aberdeenshire smallholding and one on a commercial turkey farm in Lincolnshire.

HPAI H5N1 cases in wild birds in Europe have fallen to a very low level, with very few poultry outbreaks.

Outbreaks

There have been seven poultry outbreaks, three captive bird reports, and 14 wild bird reports in Europe since Defra’s last report.

Worldwide, wild bird cases are lower this year and there is some evidence that some levels of immunity are beginning to emerge.

“But the virus will respond to that, and the genetics of the virus will change,” she said.

And she warned that this winter could yet see higher levels of cases. “The North-South Wild bird migration is finished, but the East-West is still happening – we think it’s a bit delayed because of the weather.”

She added there had been recent outbreaks in Poland and other European countries that could indicate it spreading towards the UK.