Bird flu: How to spot and report the disease

Credit: ITV

The Channel Islands are currently seeing several cases of bird flu being identified across both bailiwicks.

Local governments have announced advice for both Jersey and Guernsey on how to manage the disease and keep yourselves, and flocks of domestic birds safe.

The advice comes after a number of confirmed cases of bird flu across the bailiwicks, including a large number of birds found dead in what's believed to be a bird flu outbreak in Jersey.

Here is what you need to know about the disease:

What is bird flu?

Avian flu is highly infectious and mainly affects birds, although in very rare cases it can transfer to humans and other animals.

The virus is spread through bodily fluids such as saliva and droppings.

It is often passed on by wild birds that migrate from Europe during winter and can be very dangerous for poultry and domestic birds.

What does bird flu look like?

Bird flu can develop quickly, often affecting more than one bird. Symptoms include:

  • Swollen head

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Darkening of the comb and wattles

  • Sudden death without any obvious cause

Bird flu is more difficult to detect in poultry, but can sometimes show clinical signs.

An infected flock might show signs of respiratory distress, diarrhoea, a loss of appetite or a drop in egg production of more than 5%.

In more serious cases, symptoms could present quickly, often leading to a high number of deaths.

How is bird flu spread?

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.

Everyone, at all times but especially now, should take care to maintain good hygiene when feeding garden birds – regularly cleaning feeders outside with mild disinfectant, removing old bird food, spacing-out feeders as much as possible and washing your hands.

How can I stop bird flu from spreading?

Members of the public are being asked not to touch unwell or dead birds.

There are specific biosecurity safety measures that farmers are advised to follow, such as keeping birds inside and separating wild birds from domestic ones and poultry.

Are humans at risk from bird flu?

While some strains of bird flu can pass from birds to humans, this is extremely rare.

Officials say there is a very low risk of humans catching bird flu as it usually requires close and regular contact with an infected bird.

How can I protect my birds?

Cleaning: Use clean footwear before and after visiting your birds. Keep areas clean and tidy and regularly disinfect hard surfaces. Humanely control rats and mice.

Feeding: Place your birds' food and water in fully enclosed areas that are protected from wild birds. Remove spilt feed regularly.

Fencing: Keep your birds separate from wildlife and wild waterfowl by putting suitable fencing around the outdoor areas they access.

Register: Islanders in Jersey are asked to register their birds on the government's poultry registration, identification and movement page.

What should I do if I spot a dead bird?

If you find a dead bird in the wild, we're being asked to contact:

  • Guernsey's States Vet on 01481 221161

  • Jersey's Natural Environment department on 01534 441600

Members of the public are advised not to handle any dead or dying wild birds.The Natural Environment department will then liaise with the relevant team to collect the reported dead birds if they are on public land. 

If the dead birds are not required for surveillance testing and it is present on the landowner's property, the landowner will need to dispose of the birds themselves.

I'm a landowner. How can I safely dispose of dead birds?

Use protective gloves when picking up and handling any birds. 

If protective gloves are not available, use a leak-proof plastic bag as a makeshift glove to pick up the bird.

The first bag, together with any gloves that are used, should then be placed in a second leak-proof plastic bag (double bagged), tied, and disposed of in the normal household waste (lidded bin outside).

Dead wild birds can be buried on your property but not in a plastic bag.

They should be buried at least 60cm below the ground, to prevent animals from scavenging and gaining access to it. It also shouldn't be near a stream or anywhere that could contaminate water supplies.