Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

Read below to learn more about Avian Influenza/Bird Flu.


What should I do if I find a number of dead birds?

Members of the public do not need to report the finding of small numbers of dead wild birds, but are asked to remain vigilant for incidents where 10 birds or more are found dead in the same location and at the same time (a 'mass mortality event').

If you find more than 10 dead birds of the same species or from different species in the same place at the same time, you should contact Call Derbyshire on 08 456 058 058.

What should I do if I find a single, small garden, or wild bird?

If you find a single, small garden or wild bird (or less than 10) then you do not need to call us. You should:

  • leave it alone; or
  • follow the guidelines below for disposal.               

People should follow some simple hygiene precautions which should minimise the risk of infection. It is hard for people to catch avian influenza from birds and the following simple steps are also effective against avian influenza.

If you have to move a dead bird:

  1. Avoid touching the bird with your bare hands.
  2. If possible, wear disposable protective gloves when picking up and handling (if disposable gloves are not available see point seven below). 
  3. Place the dead bird in a suitable plastic bag, preferably leak proof. Care should be taken not to contaminate the outside of the bag. 
  4. Tie the bag and place it in a second plastic bag. 
  5. Remove gloves by turning them inside out and then place them in the second plastic bag. Tie the bag and dispose of in the normal household refuse bin. 
  6. Hands should then be washed thoroughly with soap and water. 
  7. If disposable gloves are not available, a plastic bag can be used as a make-shift glove. When the dead bird has been picked up, the bag can be turned back on itself and tied. It should then be placed in a second plastic bag, tied and disposed of in the normal household waste. 
  8. Alternatively, the dead bird can be buried, but not in a plastic bag. 
  9. Any clothing that has been in contact with the dead bird should be washed using ordinary washing detergent at the temperature normally used  for washing the clothing. 
  10. Any contaminated indoor surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned with normal household cleaner.

We are currently seeing an increase in garden bird and particularly finch deaths. The most affected species are greenfinch and chaffinch. The majority of current deaths are being caused by a protozoal organism Trichomomas. This is not a disease which humans can catch and it is unrelated to Avian Influenza.

For further information you can look at specific Question and Answers pages on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website from the link in the 'Related Links' section below.    

What is avian influenza (AI) / bird flu?

Avian influenza is a highly infectious disease affecting many species of birds, including commercial, wild and pet birds. It may also affect people and other animals in certain circumstances. It is caused by a Type A influenza virus.

Why are we so worried about bird flu subtype H5N1?

The current outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza, which began in south-east Asia in mid-2003, are some of the largest and most severe on record. Never before in the history of this disease have so many countries been simultaneously affected. The disease and attempts to halt its spread have resulted in the death or destruction of an estimated 150 million birds. The H5N1 virus is now considered endemic (regularly found) in many parts of Indonesia and Vietnam and in some parts of Cambodia, China and Thailand.

At the moment the virus does not appear to be able to spread readily between humans. However, a second risk, of even greater concern, is that the virus - if given enough opportunities - may change, by reassortment with human influenza viruses or by some other mechanism, into a form that is highly infectious for humans and spreads easily from person to person. Such a change could mark the start of a global outbreak (a pandemic).

I have heard bird flu will kill millions of people. Is this the same disease?

No. Avian influenza (bird flu) is primarily a disease of birds. It is caused by influenza viruses closely related to human influenza viruses. Transmission to humans in close contact with poultry or other birds occurs rarely and only with some strains of avian influenza.

There is potential for mutation of avian influenza viruses to new forms of virus that can cause severe disease in humans and spread easily from person to person. That possibility is a great concern for public health. More information is available on the Health Protection Agency (HPA) website (opens in a new window).

Does it affect humans and if so, how?

Humans are usually infected only through close contact with infected poultry. The severity of disease in humans varies from mild disease to severe respiratory disease. This depends on the strain of virus and characteristics of the person infected. Human deaths have been reported following severe disease. 

Can we vaccinate people against bird flu?

No. There is currently no vaccine to protect people against avian influenza infection or disease, though one is being developed. There is however good evidence that avian flu viruses respond to antiviral drugs. In the UK oseltamivir or other appropriate antiviral agents would be used for the treatment of avian flu in people exposed to the virus or to protect people, including poultry workers, who might become exposed to the virus during disease control activities.

What part do wild birds play in the spread of bird flu?

We do not know. Wild waterfowl, e.g. ducks and geese, are considered to be a natural reservoir for all type A influenza viruses and have probably carried them without apparent harm for centuries. There is circumstantial evidence that suggests that wild migratory birds can spread bird flu to domestic poultry, and there is a theoretical possibility that wild birds are now directly spreading the H5N1 virus.

Can I get avian influenza from handling wild birds?

It is considered that the risk of transmission of either LPAI or HPAI from wild birds to the general public is small. However, to minimise any risk it is advisable to carry out general hygiene precautions when handling wild birds, such as wearing disposable protective gloves when picking up and handling carcases and washing hands, nails and forearms thoroughly with soap and water after handling the carcase.

Once it is present, how is it spread?

Avian influenza is spread by movement of infected birds or contact with respiratory secretions, and in particular faeces, either directly or through contaminated objects, clothes or vehicles.

Is it safe to eat poultry or game?

On the basis of current scientific evidence, the Food Standards Agency advises that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers. This is because for people, the risk of catching the disease is from being in close contact with live poultry that have the disease and not through eating cooked poultry, game or eggs.

Further information is available on the Food Standards Agency (opens in a new window) website. World Health Organisation advice is that there is no health risk from well cooked poultry meat or from eggs. Further details are available on their World Health Organisation (opens in a new window) website.

Information on other websites