Avian influenza (bird flu)

Information on the latest situation, guidance on how to spot avian influenza (bird flu), what to do if you suspect it, and measures to prevent it.

Avian influenza (bird flu) mainly affects birds. It can also affect humans and other mammals.

Some strains of avian influenza cause a notifiable disease. If you suspect any strain of avian flu you must tell your nearest Animal and Plant and Health Agency (APHA) office immediately. Failure to do so is an offence.

Poultry keepers should remain vigilant for signs of disease and maintain the highest levels of biosecurity at all times. If you have any concerns, seek prompt advice from your vet. Sign up to our Alerts Service to keep up to date with the latest news. You can also keep up to date by following Defra on Twitter.

You must register your poultry if you have flocks of 50 or more birds. Registering your poultry will help us contact you quickly during an outbreak of disease.

Latest situation

Case in Lancashire, July 2015

A case of H7N7 avian flu was confirmed near Preston, Lancashire on 13 July 2015. As there have been no further confirmed cases since initial cleansing and disinfection took place, restrictions around the affected site were lifted in accordance with Avian influenza revocation declaration 16 August 2015 (PDF, 14.1KB, 1 page) . This was the earliest point allowed under EU rules to end the controls.

You can read about what this outbreak means for UK poultry and poultry product exports on our topical issues page.

About avian influenza

How to spot avian influenza

There are 2 types of avian influenza.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is the more serious type. It is often fatal in birds. The main clinical signs of HPAI in birds are:

  • swollen head
  • blue discolouration of neck and throat
  • loss of appetite
  • respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • diarrhoea
  • fewer eggs laid
  • increased mortality

Clinical signs can vary between species of bird and some species may show minimal clinical signs (ducks and geese).

Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is usually less serious. It can cause mild breathing problems, but affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection.

The severity of LPAI depends on the type of bird and whether it has any other illnesses.

How avian influenza is spread

The disease spreads from bird to bird by direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and faeces.

The avian influenza virus changes frequently creating new strains and there is a constant risk that one of the new strains may spread easily among people. But there is no evidence that any recent strain of avian influenza has been able to spread directly between people.

Avian influenza isn’t an airborne disease.

Biosecurity guidance

It is essential that anyone keeping poultry is vigilant for any signs of disease and seeks prompt advice from their vet if they have any concerns.

You can help prevent avian flu by maintaining good biosecurity on your premises at all times. Measures include:

  • cleansing and disinfecting protective clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles before and after contact with poultry; if practicable use disposable protective clothing
  • minimising potential contamination from manure, slurry and other products that could carry disease, by reducing movements of people, vehicles or equipment into and from areas where poultry are kept
  • thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting housing at the end of a cycle
  • having disinfectant and cleaning material ready at farm entrances, so essential visitors can disinfect themselves before entering and leaving premises
  • minimising contact between poultry and wild birds

Read our guidance:

Guidance for the public

Public health

Some types of avian influenza can pass to people, but this is very rare. It usually requires very close contact between the person and infected birds. More information on avian influenza in people is available from Public Health England.

If you employ people who work with poultry or work with poultry yourself, you can also read advice from the Health and Safety Executive on protecting workers from avian influenza.

Food safety

Food Standards Agency (FSA) advice is that avian influenza does not pose a food safety risk for consumers.

Wild birds

If you find 5 or more wild birds dead in the same location, you should report them to the Defra helpline (Tel: 03459 33 55 77).

Movement controls and licences

The following information applies in relation to the case in Lancashire in July 2015 unless otherwise specified.

Movement controls

Restrictions around the affected site were lifted from 00:01 on 16 August 2015 by Avian influenza revocation declaration 16 August 2015 (PDF, 14.1KB, 1 page) .

This revoked Avian influenza declaration 7 August 2015 (PDF, 1020KB, 6 pages) which in turn superseded the previous Avian influenza declaration 13 July 2015 (PDF, 1.56MB, 14 pages) and Avian influenza temporary control zone declaration 10 July 2015 (PDF, 793KB, 11 pages) .

Movement licences

Because restrictions are no longer in place, no licences are now available or required.

Guidance for Food Business Operators

Meat that was produced from poultry originating in the former protection zone before it was lifted must continue to be kept separate from other meat, be marked with the special identifying mark and must not be traded with other EU member states or 3rd countries:

Bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings

This information applies in general. No extra controls are now applied because of the case in Lancashire.

Bird gatherings are permitted (outside any specific control zones which may be in force) but must comply with all of the conditions in the Bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings - general licence (PDF, 29KB, 4 pages) as amended by Bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings - general licence (amendment) (PDF, 11.3KB, 1 page) .

You should also read our Guidance for the conduct of bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings (PDF, 97.9KB, 2 pages) .


You may be entitled to compensation if your poultry are killed under orders from government or APHA:

  • for poultry not diseased at the time of killing, compensation is payable at the value of the birds immediately before killing
  • for poultry dead or diseased at the time of killing, no compensation is payable
  • APHA makes an assessment of the disease status of the poultry, based on clinical judgement of the number of birds considered to be infected with avian influenza
  • compensation is not paid for consequential losses
  • only healthy poultry killed under orders from government or APHA may be eligible for compensation

Valuation is determined by one of the following methods:

  • APHA use poultry valuation tables to calculate compensation for poultry culled to prevent the spread of avian influenza
  • APHA approved valuer who is suitably qualified and experienced to value the species and type of poultry
  • Specialist poultry consultants (when no other method of valuation is possible)

Please consult your local APHA office for further details.

Cases in Yorkshire and Hampshire, November 2014 and February 2015

The last confirmed cases of avian influenza were a low severity case of H7N7 on 2 February 2015 in chickens at a farm in Hampshire, and a case of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8 in ducks on premises in East Yorkshire on 16 November 2014. All movement restrictions following these outbreaks have been lifted. We have published reports relating to the investigations carried out.

We have retained the following formal documents for the time being. The Low pathogenic avian influenza declaration 2 February 2015 (PDF, 1.06MB, 4 pages) was revoked by Revocation of low pathogenic avian influenza declaration 28 February 2015 (PDF, 13.6KB, 1 page) . The Avian Influenza declaration 16 November 2014 (PDF, 970KB, 12 pages) and Avian Influenza declaration 12 December 2014 (PDF, 713KB, 6 pages) were revoked by Avian Influenza declaration 21 December 2014 (PDF, 14.2KB, 1 page) .

Trade, import and export issues

We also have a collection of guidance and forms for importing and exporting live animals or animal products. If you need to, you can contact the Centre for International Trade (CIT) Carlisle for advice about imports and exports of animal and animal products to and from Great Britain.

Exports to the EU

The export of poultry and poultry products to other Member States can now resume as usual.

Imports from the EU

EU trade relies on strict certification for movement of live poultry, day old chicks and hatching eggs. Products such as poultry meat, table eggs and poultry products are not subject to certification within the EU.

Exports to Third Countries

Exports of live poultry and poultry related products are generally all certified in accordance with OIE rules on disease freedom, which provide for imports from free zones/regions and compartments/establishments, but some trading partners require the whole country to be free of avian influenza (bird flu). In terms of exports to third countries, we are working closely with industry partners to recognise their immediate priorities, and with the veterinary services of our trading partners, to ensure that measures are proportionate and that safe trade can continue.

Imports from Third Countries

Under EU trade rules, only a very limited number of countries outside the EU are approved for import into the EU of live poultry. All live poultry and poultry related products including table eggs must be certified as disease free and therefore suitable for trade.

Control strategy

Disease control strategy

Confirmed cases of avian influenza, if they occur, are controlled in line with the contingency plan for exotic notifiable diseases and the notifiable avian disease control strategy.

Legislation on avian influenza

The legislation covering avian influenza includes:

Enforcement provisions

Avian influenza controls are enforced by local authorities.

Penalties for offences

Breach of controls in place is an offence, with a penalty of up to £5,000 on summary conviction and up to 3 months’ imprisonment per offence.