Recent cases of avian influenza have once again brought ‘bird flu’ in to the news. 

There have been a number of confirmed cases of avian influenza so far this autumn. There have been cases in England in both captive and wild birds and a couple of confirmed cases in wild birds in Northern Ireland. There have been no cases so far in Scotland or Wales.

The vast majority of these cases are of the highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza.

Birds can be infected with the avian influenza virus through contact with infected saliva, nasal secretions or faeces. Wild birds including waterfowl are often more resistant to avian influenza than domestic birds, and can carry and transmit the virus without showing evidence of disease. This has often led to speculation that wild birds are the primary source of avian influenza spread. However, there are several ways by which avian influenza might be transmitted, and globally the most important of these has been the unrestricted movement of poultry and poultry products. 

Although the risk of contracting the disease from a wild bird is very low, you are advised not to touch any sick or dead birds, their droppings, or any water nearby. It is extremely unlikely that avian influenza could be transmitted to people by feeding birds in the garden, but good hygiene at bird feeding stations is always sensible.

As a precaution, members of the public are asked to report cases of dead wild waterfowl - such as swans, geese and ducks - or gulls, or five or more dead birds of other species to Defra. (Tel: 03459 33 55 77).