HIGH standards of cleanliness, hygiene and biosecurity are the best tools poultry farmers have for preventing avian influenza infection in their flocks.
October so far has seen more than 70 cases, with many concentrated in East Anglia, according to Defra deputy chief vet Richard Irvine.
For context, there were 158 outbreaks in the 12 months to 30 September 2022, which was considered by far the worst-ever year for avian influenza outbreaks.
While East Anglia has undoubtedly been the worst-hit part of the UK, there have been cases across the British Isles in recent weeks.
A regional housing order is in place in Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex, while a UK-wide Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) was introduced on 17 October. AIPZs make biosecurity a legal requirement.
Mr Irvine told Poultry.Network the evidence suggested that wild birds were considered the most common cause of infection.
“To date, when we look at each case – which we do carefully – with regard to source and risk of spread, the evidence showing us these continue to be point source introductions.
“Independent introductions most likely by direct or indirect wild birds sources. We’re not seeing disease moving from one poultry farm to another, in the main. It is independent introductions.”
It is understood that in some infected premises this Autumn, there have been examples of poor biosecurity, such as holes in buildings, wild birds in sheds and a lack of PPE in use.
Producers should also take care when managing events such as thinning or vaccination where regular farm routines are disrupted. “As a basic principle, any practice that is going to increase the possibility of a virus into a shed has to be managed very carefully,” he said.
“Where there is the possibility that virus breaches the biosecurity wall, we have to be absolutely scrupulous. A very small amount of virus can infect a flock.”
In terms of the outlook for the next few weeks, it remains the case that there is a very high infection pressure coming from wild birds and environmental sources, Mr Irvine said.
“It’s very difficult to say with any degree of certainty how things are going to evolve over the coming weeks.
“I think we can all anticipate, regrettably, things are likely to get worse before they get better.
“We are operating in a unique set of circumstances this year – we have had continued detections over the summer months for the first time ever.”