Dublin may be at risk of an Avian Flu outbreak

On the seventh of November, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine confirmed that a wild bird in County Limerick had contracted bird flu. This was the first case of the year recorded in Ireland. Rebecca Daly discusses what this means for Irish birds.

The peregrine falcon was admitted to Limerick Regional Veterinary Laboratory. Photo via Pixabay.com

Last week, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine confirmed that a wild bird in County Limerick had contracted bird flu. This was the first case of the year recorded in Ireland. The peregrine falcon was admitted to Limerick Regional Veterinary Laboratory after it was determined that the bird carried the avian influenza subtype H5N8. 

Further tests are being conducted on the bird to determine if the virus is the same highly pathogenic strain present in the Netherlands and Germany. 

The virus has also spread to birds in Britain, with the most recent outbreak coming on the 11th of November in Herefordshire. One flock in Cheshire had a confirmed infection in its 13,500-bird flock. 

In the meantime, no cases of avian influenza have been reported in Dublin. However, it is not out of the question for it to hit the capital.

Michael Gunn, a member of the Board of Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland, said that this time of the year always sees the arrival of migratory wetland birds. 

He said, “Some will inhabit the Dublin coast and inland wetlands such as ponds. It is possible that a small number of some such birds may carry the virus.”

This migration has been ongoing for centuries, which means it cannot be prevented during outbreaks of avian influenza. Fortunately, according to Gunn, “only a small number of individual wetland birds will be infected with the H5N8 strain”. 

“However, as this strain is so pathogenic for poultry, all means to prevent contact between poultry and wild birds (even their droppings) should be used,” he added. 

This can be done by feeding poultry inside to keep wild birds away from the feed. Using bamboo canes or light posts can support a net that will help to keep wild birds out. 

Birds who have been infected may show signs such as depression, lack of appetite, coughing, sneezing, having gaping beaks, blue discolouration around the head and diarrhoea among other symptoms. A large number of deaths in a flock may also indicate infection. 

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine urged awareness of the issue throughout the country. In a press release, they said, “Flock owners should remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their flocks, and report any disease suspicion to their nearest Department Veterinary Office.”

Gunn said, “If a member of the public currently comes across a sick wild bird they should contact a rehabilitator/vet for advice [using]  www.irishwildlifematters.ie. The rehabilitator/vet should contact their local DAFM Veterinary Office for assistance if the bird shows signs of avian influenza.”

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre said, “It can affect all species of birds, some other animals (e.g. cats, horses) and can very rarely infect humans.”

While the risk of transmission of this virus to humans is considered to be low, it can pose a threat to other animals. Gunn said, “If it is a domestic fowl that is showing signs of avian influenza they should contact their local DAFM Veterinary Office for assistance.”

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