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Avian flu - frequently asked questions

What is avian flu?

Avian influenza (or “bird flu”) is a type of flu that affects birds.  

How does avian flu spread?

Avian flu is a disease of birds and it very rarely affects humans. A human can catch avian flu if they have close contact with an infected bird (dead or alive). This can include touching the infected bird, touching droppings or bedding of infected birds, and killing and preparing infected raw poultry for cooking.

How can I protect myself?

The main way to protect yourself from contracting avian flu is to avoid direct contact with birds and bird droppings or litter.

Report any dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), gulls or birds of prey to Sandwell Council on 0121 368 1177 (Option 2 Street Cleansing, Option 3 Dead Animals) (Mon-Fri 8am-5.30pm). Out of hours, email ancillary_support@sandwell.gov.uk

Do not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that you find.

Please do not feed any wild birds in our parks including ducks and swans.

Who should I do if I find a dead bird?

Report any dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), gulls or birds of prey to Sandwell Council on 0121 368 1177 (Option 2 Street Cleansing, Option 3 Dead Animals) (Mon-Fri 8am-5.30pm). Out of hours, email ancillary_support@sandwell.gov.uk

Do not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that you find.

If you suspect any type of avian influenza in poultry or captive birds, you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.

If you have found a sick or injured bird, contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999. Do not touch the bird.

What are the symptoms of avian flu?

The main symptoms include a high temperature, aching muscles, headache, cough and shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include diarrhoea, sickness, stomach pain, chest pain, bleeding from the nose and gums and conjunctivitis. Symptoms appear 3-5 days after being infected with avian flu. More advice is available on the NHS website.

I think I might have avian flu. What should I do?

Call NHS 111 or GP if you have any symptoms of avian flu and if you have visited an area affected by avian flu in the past 10 days. More advice is available on the NHS website.

Can I catch bird flu from eating poultry / eggs?

No. Avian flu cannot be caught by eating fully cooked poultry or eggs.

Is there a vaccine for avian flu?

There is no vaccine for the avian flu. The seasonal flu vaccine doesn’t protect against avian flu.

Why is avian flu a concern?

The main concern is if a person has seasonal winter flu and catches avian flu at the same time. Flu viruses mutate often and, if an individual is infected with both types of flu, then mutations may occur which may mean the avian flu virus can spread between humans the way seasonal winter flu can.

How does avian flu get diagnosed?

It is diagnosed by a nose or throat swab that is sent off to a lab.

Is there any treatment for avian flu?

Antiviral medications such as Tamiflu can reduce the risk of severe illness. They can also be given to people who have been in close contact with infected birds or people as a preventative measure.

What about dogs and other animals?

Avian flu mainly affects birds. Although the risk is very low, avian flu can affect humans and other mammals such as dogs. Therefore, as a precaution, please keep to footpaths and keep your dogs on a lead when around wild birds.

Further advice on avian flu

NHS advice on bird flu

Government guidance relating to bird flu

Government latest updates on bird flu

Advice for bird keepers

An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) came into force across Great Britain on the 3 November 2021, and in Northern Ireland on the 17 November 2021. This was extended to include housing measures across the UK on the 29 November 2021 and further updated on 29 March 2022 to allow the release of racing pigeons, doves and other Columbiformes under certain conditions.

These measures mean that it is a legal requirement for all bird keepers across the UK (whether they have pet birds, commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock) to keep their birds indoors and follow strict biosecurity measures to limit the spread of and eradicate the disease.

The AIPZ in England means that bird keepers must:

  • house or net all poultry and captive birds to keep them separate from wild birds
  • cleanse and disinfect clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry and captive birds – if practical, use disposable protective clothing
  • reduce the movement of people, vehicles or equipment to and from areas where poultry and captive birds are kept, to minimise contamination from manure, slurry and other products, and use effective vermin control
  • thoroughly cleanse and disinfect housing on a continuous basis
  • keep fresh disinfectant at the right concentration at all farm and poultry housing entry and exit points
  • minimise direct and indirect contact between poultry and captive birds and wild birds, including making sure all feed and water is not accessible to wild birds

To help bird keepers comply with the rules, the Government has updated its biosecurity advice.

More details about the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) on the Government website

You should register your poultry, even if only kept as pets, so we can contact you during an outbreak. This is a legal requirement if you have 50 or more birds. Poultry includes chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, pigeon (bred for meat), partridge, quail, guinea fowl and pheasants.