While the UK hasn't been hit nearly as hard with avian flu this winter as has France or Germany, since December they have detected the H5N8 virus on a small number of farms in Northumberland, Suffolk, Lancashire and Lincolnshire, and in backyard flocks in North Yorkshire and Carmarthenshire.
Lancashire, with three outbreaks in January, has been particularly active (see UK: 3rd H5N8 Outbreak In Lancashire Confimed - DEFRA).
With no new farm outbreaks reported since early March, and the last wild bird detection more than a month ago, last week DEFRA announced Avian Flu measures would be relaxed in England from 15 May.
With summer around the corner the risks of seeing avian flu outbreaks in the UK - and the rest of Europe - is undoubtedly decreasing, but as the following announcement overnight from DEFRA confirms, it is not zero.
Avian flu confirmed at a farm near Thornton, Wyre, Lancashire
From: Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Food Standards Agency, Public Health England, and Animal and Plant Health Agency
Part of: Animal and plant health
Published: 4 May 2017
H5N8 avian flu has been confirmed at a farm near Thornton, Wyre, Lancashire.
The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer has confirmed H5N8 avian flu in a small backyard flock of chickens at a farm near Thornton, Wyre, Lancashire.
A 3 km Protection Zone and a 10 km Surveillance Zone have been put in place around the infected premises to limit the risk of the disease spreading. We have published full details of the controls in place.
The flock is estimated to contain around 30 birds. A number have died and the remaining live birds at the premises are being humanely culled. A full investigation is under way to determine the source of the infection.
Public Health England advises that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency is clear that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.
Read the latest advice and information on avian flu in the UK, including actions to reduce the risk of the disease spreading, advice for anyone who keeps poultry or captive birds and details of previous cases. Journalists with queries should contact Defra press office.
The latest advice, mentioned above, still reads:
A ban on poultry gatherings remains in place across the UK until 15 May 2017. This applies to birds including chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese, and restricts events such as livestock fairs, auctions and bird shows. We also expect this ban to be lifted on 15 May and gatherings can resume from that date, subject to some additional identity and health checks and biosecurity measures.So, unless additional outbreaks are reported, it doesn't appear that this small detection will impact announced plans to relax avian flu restrictions across the rest of England.
After North America's 2015 H5N8 epizootic, the virus all but vanished in the wild (see PNAS: The Enigma Of Disappearing HPAI H5 In North American Migratory Waterfowl) and in the last two years has only been detected a handful of times.
This past winter's H5N8 epizootic in Europe has differed from earlier outbreaks of this subtype, in that wild bird detections (and die offs) have been far greater than ever before, and the size and scope of farm outbreaks (1000+) has far exceeded anything previously reported in Europe.This behavioral change has been attributed to multiple reassortments that took place in China and/or Russia last summer. A reminder that all of these avian viruses are constantly evolving, and moving, targets.
The $64 question is: Will this HPAI H5N8 reassortant slowly disappear from wild birds and the environment, as it did in 2015? Or is H5N8 now capable of sustained circulation - even at low levels - in the wild and migratory bird population?
The answer to which will likely determine what kind of avian flu activity Europe will see over the summer - and more importantly - what returns next fall.