Veterinary authorities are urging vets and poultry owners to remain vigilant following the discovery of highly pathogenic H5N6 bird flu in 17 wild birds in Dorset.

BVA president John Fishwick said: “I’d encourage vets to reassure their clients this strain of avian influenza poses a very low risk to public health and the food chain.

“Defra has acted swiftly to try to contain further spread of the disease, which has likely come from migratory birds, yet vets and poultry owners should remain vigilant for signs of the disease.”

British Veterinary Poultry Association president Phil Hammond added: “It’s really important all bird keepers heed biosecurity advice issued by Defra and maintain the highest biosecurity standards. Any suspicion of avian influenza should be reported to the APHA as soon as possible.”

The Dorset case is the first confirmed finding of the virus in the UK this winter, and tests have shown it is closely related to the H5N6 strain circulating in wild birds across Europe in recent months. This is different to the strain that affected people in China last year and Public Health England has advised the risk to public health is very low.

The Food Standards Agency has also offered reassurance avian flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

A local “avian influenza prevention zone” has been declared in the area of south Dorset, where the diseased birds were found. This means it will be mandatory for all captive bird keepers in the zone to put enhanced biosecurity measures in place. Further information can be found on GOV.UK

The zone will be in place until further notice and kept under regular review as part of work to monitor the threat of avian flu.

Up-to-date advice and guidance on avian influenza is available on GOV.UK, including how to spot it, what to do if you suspect it and measures to prevent it. Alternatively, telephone the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

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