DEFRA has raised the risk of avian influenza incursion into poultry flocks to medium, where biosecurity is suboptimal.
The higher risk level reflects Defra’s expectation that the number of wild birds infected in inland UK will increase in the coming weeks.
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The most recent outbreak assessment, published on 21 September, highlights the “unprecedented summer” that the UK has experienced, with both domestic and wild birds hit by the virus.
“For the first time, HPAI H5N1 has been maintained in bird populations over the summer months in GB, and there has been an increased number of confirmed infected premises (IPs) throughout September,” the report says.
“All of these IPs had free-ranging birds with increased exposure to the external environment.
“Given that these outbreaks have occurred ahead of the arrival of migratory waterfowl species, they are suggestive of potential reinfection of native wild bird species from seabirds as they have dispersed from their breeding grounds.”
Since the outbreak assessment on 1 September HPAI had been found in 36 locations across Great Britain and the Scottish Isles, 23 of which were new detections indicating a rapid spread.
Defra said it was raising the infection risk for premises with suboptimal biosecurity because of the number of infected farms in September and the distance of some from the coast.
It remains low for farms where proper biosecurity is in place.
“The ongoing situation with HPAI H5N1 in breeding birds over the summer months in GB and north-west Europe is unprecedented,” the assessment concludes.
The high number of seabird cases has not been considered a significant risk to poultry since they don’t often travel inland.
However, wild migratory birds may mix along the coast as they fly to overwintering ground grounds in the coming weeks.
“This wild bird risk is anticipated to increase over the next few weeks as migratory waterbirds return to GB from their breeding sites, extending from Greenland to northern Russia.”