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Avian Flu 7 April 2006

Confirmation of H5N1 in a dead swan in Scotland

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has noted the events in Scotland yesterday, where the H5N1 strain of the avian flu virus has been confirmed in a dead swan.

The Minister, Hon Phil Gawne MHK, said, “This discovery, made in the routine surveillance programme, is not viewed as surprising. This virus has been circulating in wild bird populations in Europe. Indeed, similar findings are expected over the next few months. My Department is taking part in the current UK surveillance effort, where single swans and suspicious multiple deaths of wild birds are investigated.”

Local poultry keepers were given advice in February concerning avian influenza, in particular the need to establish sensible biosecurity measures to reduce or prevent the mixing of domestic stock and wild birds – especially waterfowl.

This advice encompassed the current scenario. Further measures, such as housing domestic birds, are not considered justifiable at the present time.

Mr Gawne said, “Should the disease either arrive on the Island, or become widespread within the domestic bird population in the UK, a more proactive posture will be adopted. Currently, contingency plans exist to deal with avian influenza, and a further review of legislation is being undertaken to verify that all necessary powers are available.

“However, it is important that people do not become alarmed at this development. Avian influenza is specific to birds. Only prolonged and intimate exposure to infected livestock, such as occurred in recent cases in the far east, is known to present a risk of human infection.

Anyone with concerns about this should contact the public health directorate of the DHSS.”

Abandoned poultry

On a related subject, the Department is concerned at the rising numbers of poultry found abandoned in the countryside, some even being deposited at the Arboretum.

The presence of larger and larger numbers of feral animals of any species is a significant and currently growing risk for our domestic livestock.

Abandoning poultry is not in the bird’s best interests. It is also potentially an offence under the Cruelty to Animals Act 1997.

The Minister said, “I would urge anyone thinking of releasing animals into the countryside to think again and stop doing so. Local welfare organisations, the Agricultural Advisory Service, or Animal Health can assist in providing advice on the best course of action for your surplus animals.”

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