Friday 20 September 2019

Vigilance needed to protect poultry from H5N8 virus

Whooper Swans arrive each year to spend the winter in Ireland.
Whooper Swans arrive each year to spend the winter in Ireland.

By Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

In the run up to Christmas this year, turkeys and other poultry were lucky to escape bird flu, or avian influenza to give it its full title. The disease was found in wild birds in mainland Europe and is relevant to us as many wild birds come here at this time of year to escape harsher winter weather in colder countries.

Wintering waterbirds flood in to our wetlands to enjoy our milder winter weather. The fear is that some of them may be infected with a strain of bird flu that might have the potential to infect poultry stocks or even people.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has urged vigilance, and has asked people to report to them incidences of multiple waterbird deaths that may be encountered. If you come across unusual numbers of dead waterbirds do let them know at an early date. The 'phone number of their avian influenza helpline is 1890 252 283.

Bird flu is caused by a virus. The natural reservoir of the disease is in wild birds. There are several different strains of the virus. Most strains are confined to birds but some strains can transmit to people. The virus is also capable of mutating to achieve person-to-person transmission.

The bug that is causing concern at present is H5N8, a subtype of the Influenza A virus. Although H5N8 is considered one of the less pathogenic subtypes for humans, it is beginning to become more pathogenic. Symptoms of the H5N8 virus in people are respiratory: fever, chills, headache, coughing, weakness and conjunctivitis.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reports that on 27 October 2016, H5N8 was found in a wild swan in Hungary. Further reports were subsequently made from seven additional European countries. There were outbreaks in poultry and wild birds in Austria, Hungary and Germany. There were reports of infection in wild birds only in Croatia, Denmark, Poland and Switzerland. In the Netherlands, H5N8 was in wild birds and birds in a zoo. Outbreaks have also been reported in India, Israel, South Korea, Taiwan and Russia.

Poultry farms in Ireland suffered a significant outbreak of H5N8 in 1983. Hundreds of thousands of ducks, chickens and turkeys were culled to stop the disease spreading. Clinical findings at the time demonstrated that turkeys were the most susceptible to infection.

Ireland remains disease-free this festive season so have a Happy Christmas and enjoy your turkey, goose, duck or chicken.

Wexford People

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