Avian influenza: Advice to public not to handle any sick or dead wild birds


More commonly known as ‘bird’ flu, avian influenza refers to a type of infection that occurs in aquatic birds and fowl and poultry. It is caused by Avian Influenza Type A viruses. There are two types of this virus:

  • Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza: This causes a mild disease and therefore is not generally detected.
  • Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: This type is associated with a high death rate and spreads rapidly.

Infection does not commonly occur in humans but sporadic cases have been reported. It is believed that the virus can mutate and that is how it is spread to humans. Most cases that occur in humans are linked to close contact with infected stock and occurs particularly when handing flock, for example during de-feathering or butchering.

At present, no human cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus subtype have been reported worldwide.

Recent update from Ireland
Avian Influenza Regulations remain in effect in Ireland

On December 21st 2020, new regulations were introduced which require biosecurity measures to be taken regarding the confinement of poultry and captive birds to help mitigate the risk of avian influenza. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) published FAQ’s for poultry owners relating to the Avian Influenza (Precautionary Confinement of Birds) Regulations 2020 (SI No.663 of 2020).

Additional biosecurity regulations were also introduced in December to help protect poultry and captive birds from avian influenza. (SI No.566 of 2020). A ban on bird gatherings, marts and assemblies for the purposes of show or sale is also currently in place (SI No.567 of 2020)

NB. The highest levels of biosecurity are imperative during this high risk period for Avian influenza in all flocks irrespective of size.

The restriction zones which were introduced within a 10 km radius of the confirmed avian influenza outbreak in a turkey flock in Wicklow were lifted on 14th January 2021. There have been no further outbreaks of avian influenza H5N8 confirmed in poultry or captive birds in the Republic of Ireland since that single outbreak which occurred on 10th December 2020

However, there have been further cases of avian influenza H5N8 confirmed in wild birds nationally and wild birds continue to pose a significant risk for the spread of the disease to poultry and captive birds.

As a result, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) have issued an alert to poultry owners and external stakeholders regarding the need for strict biosecurity measures to prevent the introduction of Avian Influenza into poultry and captive bird flocks. Poultry owners are asked to look out for signs of disease in their flocks and to report any suspicions to their Regional Veterinary Office.

The advice to members of the public is not to handle sick or dead wild birds and report any sightings of such wild birds to the to the local Regional Veterinary Office or contact the DAFM disease hotline on 1850 200456.

Recent update from the EU
England - Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus subtype H5N8 was confirmed in a group of 5 wild birds in the Gloucestershire area of England in November 2020. A second outbreak has since been confirmed.
The Netherlands - Four outbreaks have been reported in the Netherlands between October and November 2020. These outbreaks have occurred in poultry stock.
Germany - Nine outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus subtype H5N8 have been confirmed since the 4th November 2020.
France - One outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus subtype H5N8 was identified in November 2020 in a pet store.
Sweden - One outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus subtype H5N8 has been identified in turkeys in November 2020.
Denmark - One outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus subtype H5N8 was identified in commercial flock in November 2020.

Other cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus subtype H5N8 have been reported sporadically in wild birds in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland and Belgium.

Risks to humans from Avian Influenza
The European Union has introduced restrictions in relation to the importation of captive and pet birds from third countries in order to reduce the risk of avian Influenza being imported into Ireland. More information is available at gov.ie.

As there are no cases of Avian Influenza in poultry stocks in Ireland, it is safe to eat poultry sourced in Ireland. Poultry sourced outside of Ireland is also safe to eat due to EU measures described above. The Food Safety Authority in Ireland (FSAI) advise that all poultry, irrespective of origin, can be consumed as normal, provided it is handled hygienically when raw and cooked thoroughly prior to consumption. More information on food and Avian Influenza can be accessed from the FSAI website.

The advice from DAFM is not to handle dead wild birds, however, if for some reason they have to be handled, the government have issued guidelines which can be accessed here.

More information is available using the following links: