DEFRA has said that H5N8 influenza of avian origin has been detected in four wild mammals at a wildlife rehabilitation centre.

The three seals and a fox either died or were euthanised on welfare grounds in early December.

See also: When will the poultry housing order end?

Influenza of avian origin was not suspected, and the carcases were submitted for routine testing as part of the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s (APHA) wildlife surveillance programme.

Defra said it could not determine with certainty whether influenza was the sole cause of death, saying other factors may have influenced disease severity.

The infection source was thought to be rescued wild birds that also died at the premises and tested positive for H5N8.

Routine testing

It suggested that the finding proved the effectiveness of APHA’s wildlife surveillance system.

“As part of routine post-mortem wildlife surveillance, H5N8 influenza of avian origin was detected in four wild mammals at a wildlife rehabilitation centre in England,” a spokesperson told Poultry.Network.

“The risk to human health from the virus remains low, and food standards bodies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.”

Housing order

It comes as a key point in the housing order approaches – early April marks the end of a 16-week derogation to free-range marketing regulations, which allow eggs from birds housed because of disease risk to be sold as free-range.

Defra would not be drawn on dates for ending the housing order, only saying that officials were actively reviewing the situation.

It added the detection of H5N8 in the four mammals had been reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health.