Bird flu: Is there a health risk and can I eat chicken or turkey?

The UK has confirmed an outbreak of bird flu in a turkey flock.
The UK has confirmed an outbreak of bird flu in a turkey flock.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Bird flu has been confirmed in Ireland and the Department of Agriculture has urged poultry owners to house their birds.

In light of the increased risk of avian influenza, or bird flu, being found in Ireland, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has ordered poultry owners to house their birds, to help prevent them coming in contact with wild birds that might be transfer the flu virus.

The World Organisation for Animal Health has said that as a precautionary and regulatory measure, animals that have been culled as a result of measures to control an outbreak should not be allowed to enter the human food and animal feed chain.

However, there is no evidence to suggest that the consumption of poultry or eggs fit for human consumption could transmit the virus to humans.

What is Bird flu?

Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease affecting the respiratory, digestive and/or nervous system of several species of domestic poultry, as well as pet birds and wild birds. The Department of Agriculture has issued a number of statements around bird flu.

There are many strains of AI viruses and these can be classified into two categories according to the severity of disease they produce in poultry: low pathogenic  that typically causes little or no clinical signs in birds and highly pathogenic  that can cause severe clinical signs and often high mortality rates in birds.

Is there a risk to humans?

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While bird flu viruses are highly species-specific, on rare occasions they have crossed the species barrier to infect humans.

Bird flu should not be confused with seasonal human influenza (flu). Humans can catch bird flu, when there is close contact with infected birds or heavily contaminated environments.

Human flu vaccine

If you have been vaccinated for human flu, it won’t prevent you from getting bird flu. However, there is no evidence that avian influenza can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of properly cooked food such as poultry meat and eggs.

What do I do if I find a bird that I think has bird flu?

Members of the public are asked to report incidents where multiple wild birds (e.g. 3 or more of same species and 5 or more of multiple species) of species, other than common garden birds or pigeons, are found dead in the same location and at the same time to the DAFM Avian Influenza helpline (Tel: 0761064403) or to your local Regional Veterinary Office.

Bird flu signs

The signs that farmers and members of the public should look out for in birds:

  • Depression/lethargy
  • loss of appetite and excessive thirst
  • swollen head
  • blue discolouration of combs, wattles, neck and throat
  • respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • diarrhoea
  • reduced/no eggs laid
  • Sudden death.

All avian influenza viruses can be transmitted among birds through direct contact with body fluids from infected birds such as droppings or through contaminated feed, water, equipment, and human clothing. It cannot spread through the air.

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