October 4, 2023

‘Alarming and unprecedented’ Irish bird flu alert


Concerns have been raised that thousands of seabirds are congregating to breed on Ireland’s coasts

A conservation organization in Ireland has warned of “alarming and unprecedented outbreaks” of bird flu.

BirdWatch Ireland said the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the virus is devastating major Irish seabird colonies.

The group manages the four main tern colonies in Ireland.

Hundreds of dead birds have been discovered in recent weeks with carcasses testing positive for bird flu.

BirdWatch volunteer collects dead birds

BirdWatch field workers have collected hundreds of dead birds in recent weeks

In a recent statement, the group said that while it was still too early to assess the full impact, more than 160 adult common terns and 450 chicks were found dead in a breeding colony at Lady’s Island Lake in County Wexford.

It also said the disease was a threat to sandwich terns and rosy terns that nested there.

BirdWatch added it is concerned about the long-term impact of an outbreak of avian flu on Irish seabirds.

“A poor breeding season in a tern colony, with few surviving chicks, is unfortunate, but can be compensated by better breeding success in subsequent years.

“However, the mortality of large numbers of adult terns of breeding age has a much greater impact and the recovery will take a long time.”

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Marine on June 1 relaxed specific biosecurity measures to contain the spread of avian flu.

The department has been contacted for an update on the avian flu in Ireland.

black-headed gull

Last month, a number of black-headed gulls tested positive for the virus in Northern Ireland

Belfast’s Window on Wildlife reserve was closed to the public last month after a number of seagulls died from the virus.

Further infections were discovered in Comber, Coalisland and Magherafelt.

Northern Ireland’s Chief Veterinarian, Dr Robert Huey, called on all bird and poultry farmers to immediately ramp up their biosecurity measures and remain vigilant against the latest threat of bird flu.

He said the latest findings are a “strong warning to all of us” that bird flu is a “constant and dynamic threat”.

A recent update from the Department of Agriculture, Enviornment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said there is now an increasing likelihood of intrusion into kept flocks.

“The findings at sites near Lough Neagh are of greatest concern as they are in close proximity to areas with a high density of commercial poultry farms.”

If citizens find dead waterfowl or other wild birds, DAERA advises them not to touch the carcasses, but to take immediate action to report them to the department.

DAERA has been contacted for an update on bird flu in Northern Ireland.

Health services in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland took part in an exercise in County Louth last month to improve cross-border preparedness for future bird flu cases.

What is Bird Flu?

  • Avian flu is an infectious disease of poul
    try and wild birds that has been around for a century. It usually flares up in the fall before fading in the spring and summer

  • The H5N1 virus, which is now the most common strain, was first reported in China in 1996

  • It can spread through whole flocks of domestic birds within days

  • Last year saw the largest ever outbreak of avian flu in the UK and the world

  • Dozens of different species of wild birds were affected, including golden eagles, buzzards, herring gulls and gannets

  • Avian flu restrictions, imposed this year across most of the UK, were eased in April, but experts have reported that the H5N1 virus is still circulating and posing an ongoing risk to wild birds

  • In the UK, a number of wild mammals have died after being infected with H5N1

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) says H5N1 outbreaks since 1997 have led to several hundred human cases and many human deaths

  • The further spread of the H5N1 virus will need to be closely monitored to see if it mutates into a form that can spread to humans

Chart bird flu in mammals

Chart bird flu in mammals

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